Having an Internet connection is crucial to everyday life, German federal court says

Because an Internet connection is an important commodity, the plaintiff should be compensated for the loss of it, the court ruled

Internet access is as crucial to everyday life as having a phone connection and the loss of connectivity is deserving of financial compensation, the German Federal Court of Justice has ruled.

Because having an Internet connection is so significant for a large part of the German population, a customer whose service provider failed to provide connectivity between December 2008 and February 2009 is entitled to compensation, the court ruled Thursday.

"It is the first time the court ruled that an Internet connection is as important a commodity as having a phone," said court spokeswoman Dietlind Weinland.

The plaintiff was erroneously disconnected and demanded that the unnamed telecommunications company pay for costs that incurred in switching to a new provider. The plaintiff also demanded compensation of ¬50 (US$67) per day for the period his was unable to use his DSL, fax over IP and VoIP services, according to a news release from the court.

The Federal Court, however, awarded compensation only for loss of the Internet connection. Compensation for the loss of a fax connection was denied because a fax only enables the user to send text and images faster than conventional mail and the technology is increasingly becoming irrelevant due to the rise of alternatives such as email, the court ruled.

While a phone connection is an important commodity, the plaintiff was also denied compensation for loss of his VoIP phone line since he owned a mobile phone, said Weinland.

But the plaintiff is entitled to compensation for the lost DSL line because the Internet has been a crucial part of people's economic living standards for a while now, the court ruled.

The Internet is important because it offers access to information in the form of text, images, video and audio files. Almost all subjects are covered on the Internet, from light entertainment to highly scientific topics, the court said.

Because of its availability, the Internet increasingly replaces other media such as encyclopedias, magazines or TV, and it also enables a global exchange between its users via email, forums, blogs and social networks, the court said. In addition, the Internet is increasingly used for the initiation and conclusion of contracts as well as for legal transactions and the fulfilment of public service obligations, it added.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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Loek Essers

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