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Southwestern Bell DSL customers sue over bandwidth

A group of the local phone company's high-speed Internet customers files a class-action lawsuit for allegedly reducing Net speeds.

A group of Southwestern Bell

Gartner analyst John Girard says limiting the amount of traffic running across a connection is a common method to bring it to manageable levels, but it dramatically reduces quality of service.

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high-speed Internet customers has filed a class-action lawsuit against the local phone company for allegedly reducing the rate of speed at which they are able to surf the Net.

The lawsuit, filed in the District Court of Nueces County, Texas, seeks unspecified damages for digital subscriber line (DSL) connection speeds that are allegedly slower than the guaranteed minimums.

Southwestern Bell guarantees download speeds of at least 384 kbps (kilobits per second), but, according to the plaintiffs, it has limited connection rates to 128 kbps for certain applications, such as email and newsgroup messages.

"We have not reviewed the complaint filed today in detail, and therefore cannot comment on the case specifically," SBC Communications, the parent company of Southwestern Bell, said in a statement.

Customers claim to have tested their connections only to find that the speeds at which they were capable of downloading data allegedly did not meet the rates for which they are paying. The lawsuit alleges fraud, misrepresentation, theft and other issues.

Attorneys at Berg & Androphy, a Houston-based law firm representing the DSL user group, suggest that Southwestern Bell has intentionally reduced its DSL speeds without its customers' knowledge or consent because of a lack of bandwidth to support hundreds of thousands of users. Southwestern Bell technical support representatives, in Internet message board postings, have admitted there is a cap on speeds, according to the lawsuit.

SBC representatives said that their DSL speeds meet the minimum guarantees. But they note that those guarantees only cover the connection between a customer's computer and the phone company's central switching facility. Many other factors, including congestion on the public Internet, can impact the rate at which consumers download data, they say.

DSL is a high-speed, or "broadband," Internet access technology that uses copper phone wires to deliver both Net traffic and voice communications simultaneously at rates several times faster than dial-up modems. DSL is the primary competitor to high-speed cable modems, pitting the phone companies against cable TV operators.

SBC Communications and its affiliates serve about 400,000 DSL customers throughout their 13-state regional territory. SBC last year unveiled a $6 billion DSL plan to build services dubbed "Project Pronto."