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German court declares Internet an "essential" utility

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The Internet is an "essential" utility, like heat or electricity, according to a German court.

A federal judge in the southwest state of Karlsruhe ruled Thursday in favor of a man who couldn't use his DSL connection for two months in late 2008 and early 2009. He'd already been compensated for a disruption to his cell phone service.

Under German law, companies must provide compensation for failing to provide customers with "essential material items," according to Reuters.

The man's compensation was limited to €20 ($27 USD) a month, much less than the €50 ($67 USD) he asked for from his Internet service provider, 1&1.

The company, Germany’s third-largest DSL provider,  said that despite the ruling, complaints about loss of Internet service have plummeted recently, according to the Rheinische Post.

A representative for the court said that access to the Internet had become an indispensable part of modern life.

"The Internet is of central importance today, and affects the private life of an individual in very decisive ways. The loss of use of the Internet is comparable to the loss of use of a phone or a car," she said.

However, the court did not compensate the man for his lack of fax service during the same time, saying it is relatively "irrelevant," RT.com reported.

The debate about Internet access as a fundamental right has been ongoing in Europe since at least 2009, when the European parliament debated, and then watered down a proposal to enshrine access to the Internet as a right for all EU citizens. A number of EU member countries, including France, Spain, Greece, and Finland have since passed their own guarantees of Internet access.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons