German court: Internet provider can be sued for damages for down-time

A German court just ruled that the Internet is “essential,” and therefore Internet providers have to compensate costumers for down-time when their Internet connection isn’t working.  In other words, not just forgiveness of your bill for the period you don’t have Internet access, but actual damages.

It’s an interesting ruling that raises some interesting issues. In the US, it’s hard to figure out what anyone in government thinks is essential (since so many don’t think healthcare is).  But even for Germany, this seems to be a big step.


“The Internet plays a very important role today and affects the private life of an individual in very decisive ways. Therefore loss of use of the Internet is comparable to the loss of use of a car,” a court spokeswoman told Germany’s ARD television.

Even though my business (writing here, plus running a cloud-related business) is all about Internet access, I have mixed feelings about such a ruling. Being down for two months is bad and inexcusable, and sure, most of us do have so much tied to our laptops that without access, paying bills and other tasks is time consuming and a hassle.  But calling it “essential” feels like another level. Having access to Facebook really isn’t essential, or even necessary for anyone.

Computer via Shutterstock

Computer via Shutterstock

Yes, I agree that Internet providers should be held accountable for downtime and not charge for those periods, but declaring something essential goes far beyond compensating downtown. Having access to heating in the winter is absolutely essential in my mind (another area that the political class sees differently), and food is essential, but the internet?

The judge compared Internet access to owning a car.  And while I don’t have a car or drive much, I would view a car as a lot more important for anyone not living and working near public transport. As much as my own livelihood relies on it, I’m just not sure Internet access is essential in the same way as other things I consider truly essential.

What do you think? Were the Germany courts correct? Is Internet access a do-or-die thing in your life?  And even if it isn’t in your life, is it in anyone’s?


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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14 Responses to “German court: Internet provider can be sued for damages for down-time”

  1. just a student says:

    i am a student, i came in germany in october (in köln) i find a house and do everything else and then i went to netcologne to connect the internet…i make a contract and they say they come after 6 weeks to connect the internet…i wait 6 weeks, they didnt come…i go again to netcologne, they say “we are sorry, next week you will have internet”…i wait 1 month and they didnt come…one week ago i went there and they say we cant connect the internet at your house, you should go to deutch telecom…i went there and they say its imposible to connect the internet at your house (in köln, in germany…) so i wait 3 months and now they say you cant have internet…i dont need internet to watch porn videos, i need it for studing, i need to talk in skype with my family with my girlfriend, and a lot of other things…i want to sue the internet provider but i am not german so i dont know if i can do this (now i use the eplus free internet with max download speed 5kb/s while everyone else has a 20mb/s conection)

  2. BeccaM says:

    Often public utility licenses are granted under the condition of meeting certain minimum service requirements. Phone companies, power companies, gas and water and so on.

    When you think about it, in truth it’s not necessary to have electricity or phone service to survive. Just damned uncomfortable, and there are safety issues.

    It’s fascinating how broadband connectedness is rising to the level of ‘necessity.’ And I’ll be honest myself here: It would have been a no-go on the new house we’re living in if there was not at least minimal DSL available, because my consulting business depends on Internet service. I literally cannot work if I don’t have it — and so yes, if CenturyLink suddenly decided not to fix some broken equipment and left me offline for more than a few days, my ability to pay our bills would be damaged, and it would also damage my reputation as someone who is available and can get work done.

  3. nicho says:

    No, they should compensate you if the court states it. That’s why we have courts.

  4. Stev84 says:

    His regular phone line was down too. It’s why he had to buy a cell phone.

  5. Naja pallida says:

    I’ve had VOIP for several years, never had an outage that lasted longer than about 15 minutes. So, it’s really not so unreliable that one should be panicked if they don’t have access to a secondary phone… but I guess, it’s one of those things that you don’t need until you need it. Would be nice if it was actually cheaper than a regular phone line though, but the only reason I have it is because it’s part of my internet package.

    Vonage clearly states in their TOS that 911 service will not operate in the event of an outage. Doesn’t mention having a backup though.

  6. nicho says:

    So what’s the point of having VOIP if you have to have another phone service as backup. I don’t believe Vonage has that in their TOS.

  7. Dan Gronlie says:

    In the U.S., in most states, you can only get consequential damages from electrical or telephone outages if there was gross negligence or something very close to it. I would apply the same rule to ISP’s. In this case, how could there not have been gross negligence when it was apparently a two-month outage?

  8. Naja pallida says:

    AT&T’s terms of service for VOIP clearly state that one should have a backup choice for 911 service in case of an outage.

  9. nicho says:

    Well, if you have VOIP and your internet is down, you can’t call 9-1-1. That sounds pretty essential to me. It’s a life and safety issue.

  10. Naja pallida says:

    The internet may not be a do or die thing in one’s life, but it can be for one’s business these days. A good part of my job relies on me having access to the internet to do research. Without it, it certainly hurts my bottom line. If I had an outage that lasted any significant amount of time, it could very well cost me a client. Really, all this will do is result in ISP contracts which are clearer on downtime expectations… and likely could never happen in the US. It might hurt the job creators at AT&T!

  11. Bose says:

    “Under German law the loss of use of essential material items can be compensated.”

    So, car owners in Germany can sue automakers or repair shops for damages based on loss of “essential” use?

    My online work pays the bills, too. Some of it has to happen during off-hours, and nothing messes with me more than having service cut off at 2am for an unannounced maintenance window.

    If I got to collect damages, though, I can only imagine my ISP rebranding my service as 80%-on, 20%-off, with anything above 80% as a bonus… unless, of course, I wanted to triple my cost.

  12. Pricknick says:

    Not essential? Tell my boss that as I work from home using the computer.

  13. guest1 says:

    Bad move, they should only compensate you if their contract states it.

  14. dula says:

    I wish I could sue AT&T for forcing me to pay for data on contract even though my phone is basically useless to surf the net because the LTE download speed is 645 kb/s in my area.

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