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Forced arbitration bans Google Fiber customers from filing class-action lawsuits

Google has unsurprisingly taken notes from the business practices of competitors like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and has decided to revise its terms of service for Google Fiber Residential. The changes took place last week, and essentially nuke the ability of Fiber customers to sue Google in a major court of law. Instead, complaints are now handled through individual arbitration unless they deal specifically with “bodily injury.”

In other words, you’re not going to see a class action lawsuit filed against Google by one individual or a group of customers over the Fiber service. Instead, customers can either deal with arbitration, or take their complaints to small claims court. The terms of service also note that both Google and its customers can seek an individualized injunction or a temporary restraining order while waiting on the arbitration.

However, the government is not exempt from taking action. According to the terms of service, customers have the freedom to approach federal, state, or local agencies with their complaints. In turn, if law permits, these agencies can file a lawsuit against Google on the customer’s behalf. That said, Fiber customers aren’t necessarily on their own after signing up with Google’s new gigabit TV/internet service.

“You agree that, by entering into this agreement, we are each waiving the right to a trial in a court or to participate in a class or representative action. The Federal Arbitration Act governs the interpretation and enforcement of this arbitration provision,” the terms state. Google adds that both parties must provide each other in writing their intentions to seek arbitration of a dispute.

Unfortunately, the process of arbitration may not be free for the unhappy customer. If the claim is valued at $75,000 or less, Google will pay the fees to the American Arbitration Association (AAA) or qualified substitute. If the complaint is valued between $75,000 and $300,000, then the customer’s share in fees is up to $200. Customers may have to pay more than that if the complaint exceeds $300,000, and if the arbitrator believes that the complaint is frivolous or conjured up for an improper purpose, customers may be forced to reimburse Google for the prepaid fees too.

But here’s a bit of good news. Fiber customers not wanting to be bound by the arbitration and class-action waiver provisions in the Google Fiber terms of service can opt out by filling out this form. The catch is that it must be done within 30 days of the date that the customer agreed to the Fiber terms “unless a longer period is required by applicable law.” Moreover, if Google makes additional changes to the arbitration language in the Fiber terms of service, customers can fill out a change dispute form to stick with the current language … if they weren’t able to opt out of the forced arbitration, that is.

Google sent out emails to its Fiber customers earlier this week notifying them of the change. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance many customers don’t understand what the changes mean. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau discovered back in March 2015 that a mere 7 percent of the individuals surveyed who were bound by an arbitration agreement through a pay-per-month service actually understood what the terms of service actually meant. The rest were seemingly left in the dark.