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Pac Bell Sued Over High-Speed Access

Lured by promises of blazing speeds and constant connections, a number of consumers are taking aim at high-speed Internet providers who they say are falling short of their promises.

Pacific Bell raised the ire of a California consumer late last week for what the customer said was an attempt by the SBC Communications Inc. offspring to monopolize the market for digital subscriber lines.

Albert O. Stein, a Pac Bell's DSL service client for three years, filed suit late last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claiming Pac Bell and SBC denied other DSL companies equal access to its phone lines and facilities.

The suit, which Stein's lawyers have made into a class-action situation because they feel many consumers are being slighted, contends consumers have been forced to pay higher prices for DSL.

Pac Bell is no stranger to the courtroom. On May 16 an arbitrator ordered Pacific Bell to pay $27 million to rival Covad Communications in Santa Clara, after ruling that Pac Bell took too long to let Covad install its equipment at Pac Bell's switching offices.

Pacific Bell spokesperson John Britton, told InternetNews.com that Covad used the decision to compensate for revenue short falls it anticipated this year.

"Covad is attempting to compensate for its own revenue short falls," Britton said. "They have no legal basis for their claims."

As far as competition in the DSL market goes, Pac Bell is in the enviable position of owning the phone lines and switching offices in the Bay Area, and competitors need access to Pac Bell's equipment.

But Pac Bell wasn't the only firm to be sued by consumers. Sibling Southwestern Bell name topped the list on a lawsuit filed Thursday by a group of Houston-area Internet users seeking an unspecified amount of damages against Southwestern Bell and its affiliated companies for allegedly slowing down the speeds at which customers connect to the Web.

The plaintiffs claim that Southwestern Bell, Pacific Bell, and other SBC subsidiaries guarantee a minimum connection rate of 384 kilobits per second (kbps). However, the plaintiffs now say SBC intentionally lowered the access rate to e-mail and newsgroups by two-thirds of the promised rate, 128 kbps, without notifying customers or giving any discount for the inferior service.