Clearwire, Apple Face Lawsuits

Disgruntled consumers have slapped WiMAX operator Clearwire with a class action lawsuit for allegedly touting that its service is comparable to cable Internet and DSL when it fact it’s crappy.

Documented as “Minnick et al. v. Clearwire U.S. LLC” and filed in King County, Washington, the lawsuit claims Clearwire’s service is slow and often unavailable. It also accuses the company of imposing unlawful early termination fees.

In another development, Apple is likewise facing a lawsuit, this time from an operator of a public wiki site, for allegedly hiding under the cloak of the U.S. copyright law to impede discussions of its iTunes software.

Filed Monday, the lawsuit is set to put the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to the test. The DMCA promotes open-source in a bid to encourage iPods and iPhones to have other software aside from Apple’s iTunes.

False advertising

Clearwire has openly advertised that its mobile WiMAx network is a good substitute for DSL or cable Internet connection or the conventional wireline phones. The plaintiffs, however, alleged that Clearwire’s phone service in particular is prone to service disruptions or unavailability, making it even more substandard than conventional landline service.

The plaintiffs are demanding recovery of the early termination fees they had paid to Clearwire, as well as seeking an injunction prohibiting the company from imposing such fees and making false claims about its services.

The plaintiffs—customers from Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota and North Carolina—complained that service outages range from slow, dial-up quality Internet connection to total service disruption.  The plaintiffs are represented by firms Tycko & Zavareei LLP of Washington, DC and Peterson Young Putra.

Complaints about Clearwire’s substandard service have sprouted in online forums and websites. Some of these were rants about Clearwire’s undependable service, while others were criticisms leveled against the company’s so-called inferior equipment, inaccurate billing and poor customer service.

Founded in October 2003 by Craig McCaw, a cellular phone developer, Clearwire now operates wireless using WiMAX, a telecommunications technology that makes possible the wireless transmission of data by means of various transmission modes–from point-to-multipoint links to portable and fully mobile Internet access.

Clearwire has announced plans to spend at least $1.5 billion dollars to expand its WiMAX network subscriber base to up to 120 million users in 80 markets by 2010.

Clearwire’s launched its mobile WiMAX service in Portland, Oregon early this year following Sprint’s introduction of its first WiMAX service in Baltimore, Maryland in 2008. The two companies are gearing to launch the service nationwide.

Aside from the US, Clearwire also serves markets in Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and Mexico, some of which are through affiliate companies.

Like Vonage, Clearwire has advertised its services in various ways such as through airline tickets and implementing low opening rates to lure more users. New consumers are signed into contractual agreements.

OdioWorks counters Apple’s threats

An operator of an online technology discussion forum has filed a lawsuit to defend its move to publish information and to shield itself from further attacks from Apple’s legal team.

Late last year, Apple’s lawyers threatened OdioWorks with a lawsuit if it did not remove the iTunesDB pages from its site, BluWiki.com. Apple claimed the move was clearly in violation of the provisions of DMCA on anti-circumvention.

Like most wiki platforms, BluWiki openly shares information to the public. The non-commercial site relies on users to edit and public information on a variety of topics. It incurred the ire of Apple when it published tips on how to use an iPod or iPhone with third-party software, which is restricted on Apple’s products.

OdioWorks maintains that Apple’s monopoly violates the First Amendment rights of its users.

“Companies like Apple should not be able to censor online discussions by making baseless legal threats against services like BluWiki that host the discussion,” OdioWorks owner Sam Odio said in a statement.

OdioWorks adds that engaging in reverse technology engineering to create a better product is legal, and that it’s perfectly legitimate for a public wiki to publish discussions about this topic.