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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