Verizon Internet Services Sued for Deceptive Practices

Washington, D.C.-based law firm Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll threw down
the gauntlet Tuesday, filing a class action
lawsuit
in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against
Verizon Internet Services Inc. and parent company Verizon Communications
Inc.

The suit, brought by Bruce and Leslie Forrest on behalf of themselves and
other Verizon DSL customers, charges the company with breach of contract;
violation of Virginia Consumer Protection; untrue, deceptive or misleading
advertising; and negligent misrepresentation concerning the fulfillment of
promises made about its DSL service.

The suit alleges that Verizon has aggressively marketed its service with
advertisements claiming “your Internet access will always be on,” “you’ll
never have to waste time dialing up access or get frustrated by a busy
signal,” and “when you want to go online to work or to play, you’ll be able
to. Guaranteed.” Additionally, the Access Agreement, posted on its Web site,
says, “the Service is generally available daily, seven days a week, except
for regularly scheduled maintenance.”

But the suit claims that Verizon Internet Services (VIS) subscribers have
experienced significant disruptions in service, installation and obtaining
technical service. Numerous sites have surfaced on the Web, giving
dissatisfied Verizon customers a chance to air their grievances against the
company. Other subscribers have gone to newspapers to tell their stories.

Larry Plumb, director of Broadband Media Relations for Verizon, said he
could not comment on the lawsuit. However, he noted that DSL is a new
industry with complicated and rapidly evolving technology.

“This is a situation that is facing the entire industry,” Plumb said. “At
Verizon we support DSL, we continue to support DSL and we stand behind our
service.”

But Cohen Milstein Partner Gary E. Mason told InternetNews Radio Thursday
that the newness or complexity of the service is no excuse for not following
through on promises.

“I don’t think it’s any excuse for any new service to say, “Hey, you know,
we’re still working the bugs out, we’re sorry,” because that should be
disclosed,” Mason said. “People should be made aware of that because people
have choices and they don’t have to choose Verizon DSL. They can choose, in
most areas, cable providers, or they can choose to stick with their modems.
Why pay a $20 premium when they can get the same speeds with the modems they
have. I think consumers need to be advised of what they really can expect of
the service, but that’s not the message they’re sending out in their
advertisements and their agreements to people. To the contrary, they’re
saying “we’re going to provide you ultra high-speed service that’s always on
and other than regularly scheduled maintenance you’re always going to have
access to the service.”

The law suit offers up numerous examples of dissatisfied customers,
including Lauri Sallady, whose story was reported in The New York
Times
. The suit said Sallady was unable to access her Internet account
through Verizon DSL for 19 days, preventing her from retrieving business
e-mail and responding to e-mail from clients. According to the suit, instead
of taking responsibility for the problem, Verizon blamed the failure on
troubled DSL wholesaler NorthPoint Communications. The suit also referred to
periods in October and November when the service in greater Boston dropped
sharply. The suit said customers reported that they lost service for days
and even weeks or that the speed of the service was less than that of a
dial-up modem. The suit refers to other subscribers who waited as much as
four months to have the service implemented once it had been ordered.

The Forrests, the lead plaintiffs in the suit, signed up for the service in
August 2000. The suit says they were told service would

be implemented on
Aug. 14, 2000. “After numerous calls to technical support, significant
waiting time (sometimes as long as 90 minutes) and an unsuccessful in-home
service call, the Forrests cancelled their service in December 2000,” the
suit said.

“It’s really sort of astonishing the degree of animosity [members of the
class] have towards this utility or consumer service provider,” Mason said.
“People are very, very frustrated beyond anything I’ve seen before. Web
sites are going up, people are really upset about how they’ve been treated
by this company.”

The suit seeks compensation for Verizon customers and also an injunction
preventing the company from selling DSL service until the problems
identified in the suit are resolved.


InternetNews Radio Host Brian McWilliams contributed to this story.

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