Frontier Communications customers dissatisfied with their internet speeds and service won’t get their day in court.
The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Frontier customers must settle their disputes over internet speeds through arbitration — not in a court of law.
The decision ends a three-year legal battle in which Frontier customers alleged the company failed to provide the high-speed internet services it advertises. The Supreme Court reversed a previous ruling by Lincoln County Circuit Judge Jay Hoke, who had sided with Frontier’s disgruntled customers.
“We believe the Supreme Court’s decision is wise and fair,” said Frontier spokesman Andy Malinoski. “The arbitration provision in our service contracts is both fair and consumer-friendly.”
Frontier, the lone internet provider in many rural parts of West Virginia, has noted that it offers “cost-free” arbitration for claims on damages up to $10,000. Customers suing the company stood to gain significantly more in damages had the case proceeded and ended with a court settlement or jury verdict.
Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker wrote Thursday’s opinion. No other justices’ names are listed, as is usual with unanimous decisions.
The court agreed with Frontier that the company’s internet customers assented to “terms and conditions” that barred class-action lawsuits and required the two sides to settle disputes through arbitration.
Frontier customers alleged the company buried those arbitration provisions in multi-page monthly bills, using print so minuscule that nobody saw it.
The Supreme Court, however, concluded Thursday that Frontier gave “reasonable notice” about the arbitration terms — both online and in bill inserts.
“[Customers] assented to the changes by virtue of continuing to subscribe to Frontier’s internet service after the reasonable notice was provided,” Walker wrote.
Frontier established its arbitration provisions in September 2011. The company sent notice to customers in subsequent billing statements.
In 2014, Frontier customers sued the company, alleging Frontier “throttles back” its internet service and provides slower speeds to save money and boost profits. Frontier never notified customers about the practice, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleged that only 12 percent of Frontier’s customers in West Virginia receive “true” high-speed broadband internet service. The lawsuit also claimed that Frontier’s internet service frequently doesn’t work, and customers must repeatedly turn their modems off and on to restore service.
Frontier responded that the handful of customers suing the company got the internet service they paid for.