Horror stories about airline delays are quickly being replaced with agonizing tales about installing high-speed Internet service, and some consumers are taking their complaints to court.
A lawsuit filed against Verizon Communications this month alleged that the company misled consumers about the quality and availability of its high-speed, always-on digital subscriber line (DSL) service and failed to tell potential customers of service and installation problems.
"People are not getting what they're paying for," said Washington attorney Gary Mason, who brought the suit against Verizon.
"Just to get the service installed has been an unusual, difficult ordeal for many people in terms of waiting times, not being able to get connected, trying unsuccessfully to get technical support," Mason said.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 16 in District of Columbia Superior Court on behalf of a Washington couple who tried to get DSL service installed but gave up after struggling for four months.
Bruce and Leslie Forrest signed up for DSL service in August and were told it would be up and running by Aug. 14, but that did not happen even after calls to technical support and a visit from a technician, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status to represent all affected consumers, might be the tip of the iceberg in litigation facing phone companies offering DSL and could send consumers to such alternative sources as cable companies for their high-speed Internet access.
The Forrests are seeking damages and an order that Verizon stop signing up customers until the problems are resolved.
There are roughly 4.8 million households in the United States with high-speed Internet service, either via traditional telephone lines or through cable lines, and both industries are fiercely competing for customers.
Verizon, the nation's No. 1 local phone company, said this month that it has about 540,000 DSL subscribers who pay about $40 a month for the service.
Verizon warns on its Web site, under the DSL pricing guidelines, that it cannot guarantee uninterrupted service because of the "sophisticated nature of DSL."
A Verizon spokesman, who declined to comment on the litigation or provide figures on how many complaints it has received, acknowledged that there have been some problems, although the glitches are not unique to Verizon.
"There are definitely difficulties, and we continue to work to improve them," spokesman Larry Plumb said. "We do get the service in on time when people expect it most of the time, and most people are satisfied."
Critics say Verizon makes promises but often doesn't deliver. "The marketing people are pushing this product very successfully, trying to get this product sold, but then they don't have the techs or equipment available in our judgment to keep up with all their new customers," Mason said.
However, Verizon said any number of problems can lead to difficulties in installing DSL service, from computer software to DSL equipment to the physical wires into a customer's home.
"It's a challenge to diagnose the problem," Plumb said.
He said the company has hired new staff and also made changes in customer service.
"We're not there yet, but we've made big strides in that direction."
Both sides agreed that the problems with DSL were nationwide, not just at Verizon. "I think this is happening throughout the DSL industry," Mason said.
Plumb said, "This is really a nationwide issue. We believe it affects everybody in the industry."