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Judge sides with Charter over DSL ad spat

Wed, 10/17/2001 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

An Eastern District of Missouri court judge granted a preliminary injunction late Tuesday that requires SBC Communications to pull digital-subscriber-line advertising in St. Louis, Mo.

The ruling comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by Charter Communications Inc. on Aug. 28, claiming the basic premise of the newspaper ads, TV and radio spots and SBC's comments on its own Web site were misleading, primarily because DSL services are also subject to bandwidth-sharing slowdowns during peak usage hours.

Judge Catherine Perry wrote in her ruling that messages in the telco's "Cable Modem Slowdown" ad campaign "were simply not true." Those ads, which humorously depicted neighborhood spats centering on "Web Hog" cable-modem customers who absorb more than their share of bandwidth, contended that user access to cable-based high-speed services slowed to a crawl during peak usage times. In another ad, parents who are cable modem customers suggest that their grade-school aged children would have to go to bed at 5 p.m., and then awaken sometime between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. to "avoid cable modem slowdown."

Though DSL networks aren't shared from customers' homes to the central office, the technology isn't immune to potential bandwidth bottlenecks when subscriber penetrations rise and more and more data is routed to the network's digital-subscriber-line access multiplexer (DSLAM). DSL speeds also vary depending on the distance the customer's connection is from the central office.

Judge Perry added that she would refer the case to mediation, "as I believe the time is ripe for meaningful settlement discussions between the parties." However, the case could go to trial.

A Charter spokesman said the MSO is "strongly considering" taking similar legal action in markets where SBC runs its Web Hog ad campaign. SBC officials reportedly were confident that the telco would win the case if it went to trial.

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