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Summary:

Germany’s top court has decided that internet access is so essential to modern day life that when someone gets cut off they deserve additional compensation. What happens if U.S. courts make such a decree?

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The German high court has weighed in on the value of a web connection (as well as faxes and VoIP lines) and determined that the internet is pretty much essential to modern life (hat tip to TechDirt). This puts the German court closer to agencies such as the ITU and countries such as Finland where internet access is considered a right.

Apparently back in Dec. 2008, a German citizen found himself disconnected from his DSL line because of some error and was stuck without a connection for two months. He sought compensation for his expenses (he spent more time using his mobile phone instead of his wireline VoIP service) as well as €50 ($67) per day he had no connection. He didn’t get that much because the courts felt he was overeaching in seeking compensation from his ISP beyond actual costs for his fax line and VoIP line, but it did send the case back to a lower court telling it to set the fine accordingly.

The court’s rationale was that so much of modern life is conducted via the internet that going without was worthy of some compensation when it was cut off. A Google translation of the court’s press release notes:

The internet replaces, because of the easy availability of information, more and more other media, such as encyclopedias, magazines or television. It also allows the global exchange between its users, for example via e-mail, forums, blogs and social networks. In addition, it is increasingly for the initiation and conclusion of contracts, used for making transactions and to fulfill public service obligations. The majority of people in Germany uses the Internet daily.

The release goes on to say that because of these things it is not easily replaced and essential to modern life. Thus, it sent the case back so the man might get his compensation. In light of AT&T’s massive service failure last week that affected thousands of users, I’m curious how our own court system might view access to the web and what type of compensation — above and beyond a service credit — might be due those affected by multiday outages.

  1. The FCC needs to grow a pair and demand fiber broadband be regulated like a utility. All you’d really need to do is change the words ‘copper wire’ with ‘fiber optics’ in our current government funded communication bills.

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