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Clearwire Sued Over WiMAX Throttling 166

Posted by Soulskill
from the beware-the-internet-traffic-cops dept.
suraj.sun writes with this excerpt from Ars Technica: "Wireless operator Clearwire has had a bumpy few months, and now things are getting worse. A lawsuit has been filed by 15 users over the company's throttling practices, accusing Clearwire of not delivering advertised 'high-speed Internet' services to customers and charging them termination fees when they walk away unsatisfied. The complaint focuses heavily on Clearwire's advertising, which not only highlights the speed of the connection, but also the fact that there are no limits on data usage. 'Usage is unlimited — believe it. You can upload, download, and surf as much as you want for one low price with any of the CLEAR Internet plans. We don't slow down your connection — the way some Internet providers do — if we think you are using too much bandwidth,' the complaint quotes from Clearwire's website. (That text appears to have been removed at the time of publication)."
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Clearwire Sued Over WiMAX Throttling

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  • yay. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unity100 (970058) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:21AM (#35452914) Homepage Journal
    deceptive advertising, DESPITE they have advertised that they were not doing deceptive advertising.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      I actually got out of a mobile phone contract because of their "unlimited" lie. When I signed up with T-Mobile I asked the woman quite specifically "Is that really unlimited?" Yes." "No limits what so ever?" "Yes." "I can download as much as I like?" "Yes." Turns out she was not telling the truth and there was a 3,000Mb limit. I told them they could either give me unlimited service or fuck off, and since they refused the first option by default they accepted the second and I stopped paying them. They tried

  • Wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:25AM (#35452950) Journal
    Who could ever have expected that a wireless(and thus inherently shared-medium, with some partial exceptions from clever antenna shaping and stuff) ISP would be even worse than the wireline ones about bandwidth throttling and general dickishness? I, for one, am shocked.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The municipal wireless in Minneapolis doesn't pull any of those stunts. It's not uncommon for my house to stream Hulu in one room, Netflix in another, and nab torrents of distro daily-builds like a mad fiend (amongst other things...), all at the same time. They have never once throttled me down.
    • I use Clear in the Dallas Area. The USB dongle runs 3 to 5 mbit at work (24 miles from home) and the ‘Box’ runs 2 to 4 mbit at home. As with any RF system range is going to be an issue, so is its inherent bandwidth limitation (as with any system). Yes sometimes the data rate can get real bad, even drop out. This does not usually last a long time but it can be annoying. I have never experienced anything that I would believe as targeted or intentional limiting, however if enough people suck on th

      • by Svartalf (2997)

        In some cases, they HAVE been observed as throttling. There's a reason they pulled the verbiage from the website as indicated in the summary.

        Pretty much all of the wireless internet vendors have taken to throttling connections at this point- and it's more because they can't handle the load on their backhaul than the towers not being able to handle the load. In fact, many of your problems aren't RF related in town unless you've got proof the RF dropped out on you.

    • by Svartalf (2997)

      The problem isn't so much the "precious limited wireless spectrum" that everyone presumes that is the cause of things like the throttling, etc. is being done.

      It's NOT that for which they throttle for. The backhaul can't handle the loads in question. Seriously. It's not that the phones/dongles can't transact the tower properly in most cases, it's that the stuff the towers are connected to that can't handle the loads. And, most of that is the jokers trying to oversell capacity or under allocate the resour

      • by markana (152984)

        Oh, there's an issue with the radio side of it also. The more data you are shoving over the radio channels and the more devices you have in the field, the more spectrum you need. That's simple physics. This is why all those people hoping to get fantastic speeds on Verizon LTE are in for a big shock, once the number of units in the field gets past the miniscule level. They just don't have the radio bandwidth to support lots of 4G users, and it's going to fall over badly.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          That's a design issue, not an RF issue. Wireless allows for essentially infinite bandwidth. But that requires infinite cost. So they want to balance cost to coverage. We want more bandwidth. They want less cost.
  • Doesn't Sprint share the Clear services for their WiMax capabilities? I can attest to the lack of bandwidth restrictions (on 4G at least) by 193GB usage since November!

    • Sprint owns 51% of Clearwire. All of the "4G" services Sprint offers use the Clearwire network. Keep in mind that this is WiMax, and not really 4G, but because they sold it before 4G was a standard, they can continue to advertise as such. Rumors are of a deal between Sprint, T-Mobile, and Clearwire regarding 4G, so I suspect something significant to come of this soon, probably for the worse (for the consumer) and for the better for the beleaguered business deal.
      • Sprint owns 51% of Clearwire. All of the "4G" services Sprint offers use the Clearwire network. Keep in mind that this is WiMax, and not really 4G, but because they sold it before 4G was a standard, they can continue to advertise as such. Rumors are of a deal between Sprint, T-Mobile, and Clearwire regarding 4G, so I suspect something significant to come of this soon, probably for the worse (for the consumer) and for the better for the beleaguered business deal.

        Is 4G a standard? Last I heard it was just a marketing term used by the telco's to describe their 'better than 3G' service. 4G could be LTE, WiMax, or HSPA+; all very different, all '4G'

    • I'll piggy-back on this comment to share my Clear experience. So far, so good. I've experienced a little hinkiness but nothing like the hard throttling described in other Clear markets. The worst I've encountered is occasionally coming home and finding that my signal is down to 1 "dot" instead of the usual 4-5 and my speed is about what I'd expect from a low signal. Noticeably slower but not the throttled speeds regularly reported. I log into the router, click the "reconnect" button and it jumps back t

      • How funny. Shortly after posting that, I noticed my downlink speed had dropped to around 0.2mbps while my signal meter shows 5 dots. First time that's happened since I started using this service. Now I'm getting 0.7. Oddly, my uplink speed is repeatedly clocking in at the fastest I've ever seen. I'm going to chalk this up to people finishing dinner and streaming Japanese tsunami videos because it doesn't fit the reported throttling pattern.

  • T-mobile does this. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gad_zuki! (70830)

    We really need a federal law that defines "unlimited broadband internet." Throttling me down to dial-up speeds past 5 gigabytes per month is not unlimited broadband. Hell, anything under 3mbps shouldnt even be called broadband.

    The DSL reports forums about Clear are horrific. I was thinking of using them for a remote office's backup line, but absolutely no way now. Random throttling to 256k for day or weeks on end is not acceptable.

    I feel if they had a decent business level service and priced it accordingly

    • by Stenchwarrior (1335051) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:37AM (#35453066)

      We really need a federal law that defines "unlimited broadband internet."

      Maybe I'm jaded, but anytime I see the words government and Internet in the same sentence I get worried. The last thing we need is the government involved with anything that has to do with the Internet lest we end up with the "government's version" of the web. I like that it's a true "free frontier". Or at least, as much as it can be.

      • by jacobsm (661831) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:43AM (#35453126)

        It seems to me that government is less evil than corporations right now. I'd welcome its intervention in ensuring that the internet isn't hijacked by corporate evil-doers.

        • You mean you can tell where one stops and the other begins? You must have a better glasses prescription than I do. To me, I see that I have exactly one cable provider and exactly one DSL provider, and know that the municipality is to blame.

        • You dont like the company then you stop paying them and get a competing service. If you don't like the government then you will need to convince a lot of people that it is bad.

          • Most areas in the US don't really have competing services. As far as I've been able to determine, I can only get broadband from my cable provider, and I live in an urban area. Of course, the cable provider also offers cable television, and VOIP services. They have serious incentive to throttle my Netflix, Hulu and Vonage.

        • Any time you start thinking that the government is less "evil" than corporations, or that corporations are less "evil" than the government, you get onto scary ground. Both are institutions made up by people, and governed by how those people behave. History shows that people collectively will not consistently act in a "good" way, and that the more power they have, the more that tends to show itself.

          The correct move is to carefully balance how much power each has to minimize those effects, and not assume o

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          It seems to me that government is less evil than corporations right now.

          Corporations get their charter from the government, and are really just an extension of it. The government can make just about any rule that they want for corporations - the only hiccup being that a corporation can incorporate somewhere else. This is not a problem for communications services like the internet, which has to be local by definition. So I don't think it really matters whether the government runs the internet directly, or by proxy through corporations.

        • Corporate evil-doers already have by getting a few of their lawyers involved in helping to disrupt Clearwire's obvious threat to their monopolies on connectivity. Get real folks, competition means war out there. Just because "some users are suing" doesn't mean that the full story has been told. Large competitors are leaning heavily on Sprint and Clearwire's bankers with the intent of blocking competition to monopoly land-line cable franchises. Don't be a dupe.

      • by Alex Belits (437) *

        lol randroids.

      • It would not be government regulation of the Internet, it would be government regulation of advertising about the Internet.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        We really need a federal law that defines "unlimited broadband internet."

        Maybe I'm jaded, but anytime I see the words government and Internet in the same sentence I get worried. The last thing we need is the government involved with anything that has to do with the Internet lest we end up with the "government's version" of the web. I like that it's a true "free frontier". Or at least, as much as it can be.

        Yes, how dare big government get in the way of big business. Corporations would never act in any way that would harm their customers; only governments do that.

        • I hope thats not a dichotomy youre driving at.

          • dichotomies are fine, it's the false ones you need to watch out for. Further, I don't really see how that's a dichotomy. The only thing I see is the implication that corporations are at least as bad as governments, anything further is up to the reader.

      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:57AM (#35453278) Homepage

        The last thing we need is the government involved with anything that has to do with the Internet lest we end up with the "government's version" of the web.

        Yeah, especially not the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [wikipedia.org]. If they got involved, it would just wreck the whole thing.

        Also, keep your government hands off of my Medicare!

      • by N0Man74 (1620447) on Friday March 11, 2011 @11:00AM (#35453312)

        Why does it have to be internet specific? Can't we just have the word, 'unlimited' defined as to mean.... 'unlimited'? Regardless of what the industry is?

      • by gad_zuki! (70830)

        Enjoy your easy mod points from the randroids, but advertising is already heavily regulated - and with good reason. Hell, broadband is already defined at 256kps. This definition bought by big companies. The FCC needs to change this and start being more picky about advertising language. The language in these ads reflects nothing about the service. At the very least they should be forced to show us their caps and throttling policies. How can you have a function market when this information is purposely hidd

        • >>>broadband is already defined at 256kps. This definition bought by big companies. The FCC needs to change this

          They did.
          Two years ago. It's now 4000kbit/s.
          Funny. I had a broadband connection (faster than 56k dialup and faster than the OECD 256k definition) and now I don't, just because they redefined the meaning of the word.

          • by gad_zuki! (70830)

            Its does not apply to wireless. The FCC weighs these things based on type of service. Wireless broadband is defined at 200kbps.

      • by mikestew (1483105)

        When you see those two words in the same sentence, do you also feel an uncomfortable jerking in your knee, followed by the emission of a canned response?

        Parent wasn't suggesting that your Wild West interwebs be changed, but that advertising be regulated such that it is not deceptive, downright false and/or what a company says in 36 point type isn't cancelled by what they say in 6 point type.

      • by Jawnn (445279)
        Not jaded, just stupid. Or perhaps you have some evidence that the mythical "free market" is alive and well and doing a bang-up job of seeing that consumers have real choices (and thus some kind of clout)?
        Nah. Didn't think so.
    • by penix1 (722987) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:38AM (#35453082) Homepage

      We really need a federal law that defines "unlimited broadband internet."

      Ummm...Do you really want a bunch of "get off my lawn!" grampys who have absolutely no clue what the Internet is deciding something that already exists in law?

      It is called bait & switch and it is already illegal.

      • by gad_zuki! (70830)

        I know libertarianism is popular here, but advertising is already regulated and for good reason. The selling of internet is no different. Considering that they're obviously lying in their ads or at least being purposely misleading, this is an appropriate opportunity to engage in regulation.

        Hell, its already regulated now. Broadband is defined at 256/kbits in the US. Mostly thanks to big donors who would rather pay off congress than provide good service. Now, people should be demanding an end to this poor de

        • by sjames (1099)

          Advertising is SUPPOSED to be regulated, but based on all the lies I see all the time everywhere I look, I'd guess it isn't actually. I'm not talking about matters of opinion (I'd be surprised if anyone didn't believe their product was best), I mean outright snowjobs, weasel words from hell.

          Many libertarians also believe advertising should be regulated at least as far as fraud is concerned.

      • by gad_zuki! (70830)

        Actually this is not bait and switch. Good luck getting your DA to prosecute on this.

        Its 100% legal to call overly throttled and capped service "unlimited broadband" as long as you stay over 256kbps with your cap based throttling, as thats the FCC's definition of broadband.

        This low definition of broadband, bought by big corporations in the 90s, is meaningless today. The definition needs to change to at least 3mbps.

        • by Svartalf (2997)

          It actually IS bait and switch if you claim you don't throttle and then do it anyway.

          • by penix1 (722987)

            Bingo! We have a winner here folks...

            It is bait and switch because they are luring you in for one product and switching it with a lesser product.

        • by sjames (1099)

          No, that's the FCC's old definition of broadband. They don't define unlimited. They have now increased the speeds necessary to call a service broadband at all to 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up, so you got your wish.

    • by Rennt (582550)

      Or maybe we need a federal education program about what the terms broadband and baseband actually mean, so the general public are not so easily duped.

      Broadband has nothing to do with mbps - and unless they cut you off it's by definition unlimited. Caveat emptor.

    • by morcego (260031)

      You dont need a law. Just a dictionary.

      Unlimited = no limits

      Technically speaking, there is already a definition of broadband. E2 or higher, meaning at least 2mbps.

      So, in a nutshell, you are as clueless as those legislators you want to make decision on something they (and you) dont understand.
      Please do your homework.

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      I think a government definition of "unlimited" would probably stretch on for five or six pages with alot of words like "except" and "unless" featuring promentently. It would be quite readable, if you are used to regulations, legal briefs and court decisions.

      Face it, regardless of some sort of regulation, it is going to mean whatever the heck the provider wants it to mean because the term "unlimited" has no meaning. What could possibly be unlimited? Obviously, the bandwidth has some fixed upper limit and

    • >>>Throttling me down to dial-up speeds past 5 gigabytes per month

      I'm not sure what you mean by "dialup" but I will assume 128kbit/s (ISDN speed). That still allows you to download ~13KB/s or ~35+5 == approximately 40 gigabytes each month.

      • Dialup means an off the shelf modem and a POTS line. It maxes out at 56kbps in North America. Anything beyond that requires special lines and/or customer premises equipment.
    • We really need a federal law that defines "unlimited broadband internet."

      Ugh! We most certainly do not! This is why our laws are so massive as to be incomprehensible. We don't need a thousand different laws defining words in hundreds of industries. Truth in advertising is already there. Contract law is already there. You sell me unlimited internet, then limit it, and I can sue you for breach of contract. Why, $DIETY, why do we need MORE laws?

      The DSL reports forums about Clear are horrific.

      This is mor

  • these are the same people who plastered the lot where I park at work with bright green fliers advertising their service, that should tip people off to the type of company they are.

    Unless you're a chinese restaurant or a pizza joint, if you have to advertise by putting fliers on people's cars, you're not a real business.

  • Anyone consider that some of the alleged "throttling" may bedue to service provider infrastructure that's overloaded to the point where the performance isn't good anymore?

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      Anyone consider that if I sell you a ticket to an all you can eat buffet, and then turn around and say "too many people are eating tomatoes, so you can't have one right now", that that is false advertising? Get more tomatoes, or refund me my ticket, it's not all you can eat.
      • I have bad news for you-- that is what happens in the real world. If you go to a buffet with 20 other friends, and you make it a point to eat all of their tomatoes, I dont think you would be able to sue when they ran out.

        • by sjames (1099)

          His analogy was faulty though. It's more like they run out of absolutely everything and refuse to give you a refund because you each got a raisin.

      • All you CAN eat, not all you WANT to eat. Unless it says "All the tomatoes you can eat," as long as there's other food available, they're fine. It's a pretty bad analogy.

        The problem with Clear is all the stories about people who literally have no service, but still get nailed with ETF fees, asked if they have friends who would take over the contract instead, get incentives for others to join up, etc. That, and they claimed "no throttling" in their advertising, and then throttle people...

        • by ClintJCL (264898)
          You may have missed the updated analogy, where I added that they specifically said you can eat all the lobster you want. And it is a bad analogy, because there are different foods, but truly there are not different bytes. You can't run out of 0s but only be served 1s. Analogies do tend to break things down. But it remains true that if they said "eat all the tomatoes you want", and then you couldn't, that it is false advertising.

          SpeakEasy specifically told me in pre-sales chats that I could use 100 percent

    • And I quote:

      While speed is important, capacity is what really matters. Our spectrum resources allow us to handle the high demand for many megabytes of data we know customers want.

      http://www.clearwire.com/company/our-network [clearwire.com]

  • Antenna Animosity (Score:4, Interesting)

    by garcia (6573) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:48AM (#35453158)

    The single biggest issue was that residents, especially those in cities around me in Dakota County, Minnesota, were unwilling to permit the antennas to be placed where Clearwire wanted them.

    Clearwire planned to place the 125 foot tower in a city park and residents surrounding the park became motivated and forced the city to deny the request.

    Kinda hard for them to provide the speeds they want to their customers when residents won't allow the infrastructure to be built out as the ISP originally planned.

    Sucks for all involved regardless of your place in it.

    • Of course that was the ONLY way to get the job done. I'll give you a hint they try and do things the cheapest way first and work up from there. Often they end up siting in imperfect places and ignore those affected by that imperfection.

    • I fail to see how Clearwire has the right to falsely advertise just because they were basing their business model on co-opting public land. Even if their use of that public land would have been harmless.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm all for going after ClearWire. Hold them to their claims. At the same time, at what point does consumer responsibility come into play. With a tiny bit of critical analysis it is obvious that their claim is complete BS. They can't possibly deliver on it. It's akin to the snake oil salesmen of bygone days. To some degree, stupid people will lose their money to charlatans no matter what laws are in place. That said, don't expect the Government to do much in this case. ICO (Clearwire) is so deeply i

    • In general if they sell that you get unlimited and you don't. It is the companies faul. I had a friend that interned years back and he mentioned that the sales people out right lied about everything. Even stating that they didn't need a line of site where at the time you did.

  • by gimple (152864) on Friday March 11, 2011 @11:04AM (#35453356) Homepage

    I used Clearwire for a little over a year, and dropped them due to their throttling.

    Cool story bro time:

    Working from home for an enterprise software company, and moving to a rural area with no real broadband other than Clearwire, I went to their store/office to sign up. Since I was using it primarily for work, I worked with a sales manager who specialized in business accounts. After making it clear what I would be using the access for, including the data volumes I would be using, I was assured that the speed and access I needed would be no problem. I even made it clear that my company used VOIP. I was even given a loaner modem, so I could test the service. After about a week of testing, I decided to sign up, putting the recurring charges on my corporate AMEX.

    About three or four months of everything working swimmingly, I was on a call one day, when the phone just stopped working. I had a hardware VOIP device, so I could see the LEDs weren't working, but my other Internet access was fine. I called our VOIP support, and they figured out that the port for VOIP had been blocked.

    I called the Clearwire sales guy who I had worked with--and who had assured me that VOIP would not be an issue--and he denied that the port had been blocked, but he contacted Clearwire support, and was told by a manager that indeed the port was blocked. He put me in contact with this manager, who helped me figure out a port that would not be blocked, so I could set the VOIP modem to that port. During this time, he warned me that the speed would be throttled when the system registered the usage that was coming from my IP address and port.

    I saw my speeds slowly degrade to unusable on all Internet access, not just VOIP, and by this time DSL had come to my area, so I took the modem in to the store to return it. The very unfriendly person who took the return informed me that I would be hit with a ~$300 termination fee, even though I had not agreed to a contract or terms, and she could not prove that I had.

    As soon as the charge hit my AMEX, I filed a dispute on the charge, which was promptly reversed, and I never heard or saw anything again.

    Cool story, huh?

    • by Raenex (947668)

      Cool story, huh?

      Informative, yes. Cool, no.

  • I got clear internet last year, in order to cut the cable cord. For a couple months it was good, then I would frequently drop to sub 1 Mbps speeds for extended periods of time. I called support, and they told me that the best antenna was to the south of my house, so they told me to move the router to the other side of the house for best signal. The problem went away for a bit but came back, so I called again, and they said the best antenna was to the north. This was in the span of 2 weeks, so I doubt they suddenly built a brand new tower in that time period. So I moved the router back to the north and since I've not had a problem.

    I'm more likely to believe that this was simply stupidity on the part of their support, and I have a hard time believing in conspiracy theories, but as evidence builds I start thinking crazy things like the fact that they are just doing a shuffle while they put me on their "do not throttle" list just to shut me up.

    I know it's annecdotal and crazy...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by xMrFishx (1956084)
      Dude, don't be silly, those damn antennas they planted just won't stand still! You must have missed the Clearwire support technician chasing your misbehaving antenna across a field with a whip until it sat back where it belonged. If you can't figure that out with why they told you to move your router I don't know. You should look to purchase some Clearwire binoculars to spot a misbehaving antenna as it moves across the countryside. They have even taken time to scratch some of the paint off the lenses so
    • If a company is doing something maliciously it's not a "conspiracy." It's a company operating nefariously.

      A company not giving their phone reps correct and accurate information is maliciousness. I worked for an ISP as a phone rep and making sure that people on the phones *didn't* know what was going on or have correct information was constant and done with malice and forethought.

      "Conspiracy theory" is always dragged out when someone claims a corporation is doing something wrong and it needs to stop. Cor

    • by Ecuador (740021)

      Perhaps it's Andy Kaufman running clearwire and he sits outside houses, throttles their internet, then gets loads of entertainment by watching people run around the house with their routers!

  • Ah, good. Now I have some interesting documentation to fend off the hordes of moronic sales people that Clear has stalking around the local mall.

  • The stuff they mailed to my home (Washington DC suburb) did not say "we don't throttle". Their terms of service said specifically that they reserved the right to throttle (What? You didn't at least skim them before signing up? Hand in your geek card.).

    I signed my mother-in-law up for their service anyway - she's a light user, and their service is cheap compared to the other two Great Satans of telecom in the area, Comcast and Verizon. We got a home+mobile pair for $60/month - $30/month for faster-than-3G-

  • When Clearwire did this to me [jseliger.com], all I did was write a lousy blog post about it and tell my friends not to use their service. Seeing something more substantive is impressive.

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