Consumer and legal backlash against early termination fees (ETFs) was extended to the broadband service industry as two former customers of Qwest Communications filed a class action suit against Qwest’s policy of charging customers $200 when they cancel their digital subscriber line (DSL) subscriptions before the end of an initial two-year term. The suit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, is one of the first of its kind to target ETFs that are being imposed increasingly by DSL and broadband service providers. Over the past year, carriers such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint-Nextel, T-Mobile USA and Alltel have all fought class action complaints that concern wireless ETFs, and a California judge ordered Sprint Nextel in July to refund $73 million in ETFs to its customers. For years, mobile phone operators have used ETFs routinely to recoup the cost of discounted handsets and other equipment when subscribers switch to competitors before the end of their contract terms. Although Qwest maintains that its ETFs are part of its two-year “price for life” broadband service plan, counsel for the plaintiffs told the court that, unlike wireless firms that require their customers to sign contracts that impose ETFs for early termination, Qwest does not require written contracts for its broadband customers. Arguing that Qwest’s two-year broadband service plan should require a written agreement, the plaintiffs assert that Qwest’s policy violates tenets of the Washington Consumer Protection Act and other state laws that are intended to protect consumers against unfair or deceptive business practices. The plaintiffs further contend that the $200 ETF charged by Qwest is unenforceable, as it is not based on an estimate of actual losses that are incurred by the carrier. If class action status is approved, the suit would cover Qwest broadband customers throughout the carrier’s 14-state service territory.