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Is the Internet as 'essential' as a fridge or car? German court thinks so

MAINZ, Germany -- A German court has ruled that the Internet is as much of a necessity for daily life as a fridge or car.

The legal decision means Germans now have the right to claim compensation from service providers if their Internet access is disrupted.

"Most people in Germany use the Internet daily. Thus, it has become an essential medium in the life of German society, the disruption of which has an immediate impact on the course of everyday life," the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe stated.

The court made the ruling after hearing the case of a man who was unable to use his high-speed Internet connection, which also offered a telephone and fax line, for two months from late 2008 to early 2009.

He had already received compensation for the cost of having to use a cellphone, but wanted to be compensated for not being able to use the Internet. Under German law, the loss of use of essential material items can be compensated.

"The Internet plays a very important role today and affects the private life of an individual in very decisive ways. Therefore loss of use of the Internet is comparable to the loss of use of a car," a court spokeswoman told Germany's ARD television.

The ruling puts the Internet among the things legally recognized as "essentials."  

In Germany, "repo men" are not allowed to impound necessities -- including cars, refrigerators, beds, chairs or other basic furniture -- if debts are unpaid.

Paragraph 811 of the country's "code of civil procedure" -- which is known as the ZPO -- protects "items that are necessary for daily personal needs."

Among the ZPO's exemptions for farmers who have defaulted on debts are "small animals in limited numbers, as well as one milk cow, or at the debtor's option, a total of two pigs, goats or sheep, if these animals are necessary for the feeding of the debtor, his family or people who help in the household, on the farm or in his business."

"The rights of individuals are well secured in our country," Detlef Huermann from the Association of German Bailiffs said. "In our field, German lawmakers are continuously expanding the protection of debtors, for example, and compared to legislation in other European countries, our laws are very humane in that respect."

Reuters contributed to this report.