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Here's the situation. A certain telecom company is advertising a "7 Mb/s" internet connection plan, and the monthly bill shows "7.1 Mb/s" internet service. When measured, connection speed is 3 Mb/s. Called customer service and found out that the contract for the "7 Mb/s" plan specifies that connection speed may vary between 3 and 7 Mb/s, and, what surprised me most, I was told that customers in my area are "allocated 3.3 Mb/s". That is, the allocated bandwidth is fixed at 3.3 Mb/s and doesn't really vary between 3 and 7, and most certainly can never reach the advertised 7 Mb/s.

I wonder whether this practice is legal. Can a baker advertise a 7 lbs cake, bill for 7.1 lbs cake, mention in the contract that the actual weight of the cake may vary between 3 and 7 lbs, and fine tune its machinery to always produce 3.3 lbs cakes to be sold as the 7.1 lbs ones?

EDIT: After quick googling I found that the same telecom company has been accused of all kinds of deceptive practices and fraud: medium, consumeraffairs, bayleyglasser, dorothyayer.

  • Could you tell us where you are? Laws vary from country to country. – David Thornley Jan 7 at 23:28
  • @DavidThornley, California, USA. – Michael Jan 7 at 23:49
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I wonder whether this practice is legal.

No, it is illegal. Besides any claims available to you under contract law, many (if not all) jurisdictions in the US have legislation that addresses "deceptive methods, acts, or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce". Section 1770 of the California Civil Code sanctions unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

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    The linked statute is very specifically about health services that purport to change sexual orientation, and has nothing to do with telecom services, or general consumer protection. – David Siegel Jan 8 at 1:31
  • @DavidSiegel Big oops on my part. Thanks for the heads-up. The link has been fixed (yesterday I only saw language akin to Michigan statute for consumer protection and did not notice the restricted scope of the initial CA statute). – Iñaki Viggers Jan 8 at 11:25
  • Thank you. It looks as if Sec 1770 (5) or (7) might apply. But if any language in the ad can be read as a disclosure, or if the actual speeds in fact vary with demand, or other conditions, they might not. – David Siegel Jan 8 at 17:02
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Assuming everything exactly as in the question, that is probably deceptive advertising. But ads for ISP services, much less contracts for them, tend to be full of exceptions and details, and he exact wording of those will matter here. If there was "fine print" that said the service will often be at 3 Mb/s, that may be enough to make this legal. Also, that each customer was 'allocated" 3.3 Mb/s may well not mean that each customer's connection was fixed at the speed, in fact it is unlikely to. It more likely means that for each 100 customers, bandwidth of 330 Mb/s was available to be shared among them dynamically, with the exact amount a given customer receives varying by demand. if 7.1 Mb/s is the maximum bandwidth ever provided to a customer, the ad may be considered accurate.

Legal aid for consumer issues may be available at http://lawhelpca.org/ for those unable to afford a lawyer.

For further information this FindLaw page gives section numbers for some key California consumer protection information.

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