Colorado ISP Peak Internet Sues Customer For Bad Online Reviews [Updated With Popehat Signal, Resolution]]

[Update: see resolution at end of post]

Peak Internet of Colorado offers ISP services to the Pikes Peak region. Russell Petrick tried their services and was disappointed. He says that their speed was consistently below the benchmark they advertised. When Petrick complained, he says that Peak Internet told him he was getting above their stated minimum speed, so he should be happy with the 12 Mbps he was getting, even if it didn't reach the advertised 20 Mbps top speed.

Petrick complained online on Yelp and elsewhere. Peak Internet, an American company that values American ideals like freedom of speech, recognized Petrick's right to complain and responded forthrightly to the complaint. No, wait, Peak Internet strongly disagreed with Petrick's complaints so it responded online with specific facts and circumstances showing how particular elements of Petrick's complaints were untrue.

Wait, no. I forgot. This is America. So Peak Internet sued. They hired attorney Ryan J. Klein of Sherman & Howard and filed a complaint against Petrick in Teller County District Court for defamation and defamation per se. The complaint is here.

Peak Internet's complaint is bare-bones and notably vague and ambiguous. This is how it explains the basis for accusing Petrick of defamation:

The defamatory statements made by Petrick about Peak Internet include, but are not limited to, false statements about the speed of services provided by Peak Internet and responses to complaints about alleged issues with the speed of services provided by Peak Internet.

Notably, Peak Internet does not specify exactly what part of what Petrick said that was false, or exactly how it was false. Remember what I always say: vagueness in defamation claims is a hallmark of meritless thuggery. Here, Peak Internet has used vagueness as a strategy to (1) obscure whether it is suing based in part of protected statements of opinion, (2) hide exactly which statements it contends to be false, avoiding early proof that the challenged statements are true, and (3) increase the costs and pressures of litigation on Petrick to shut him up and deter others from criticizing Peak Internet. You can't tell from the complaint, for instance, whether Peak Internet's argument is "our speeds were never that slow that often, he's lying" (which might be a valid defamation claim) or "his arguments are unfair because these speeds are above the guaranteed minimum speed and we don't promise the top speed all the time" (which would be an invalid attack on a protected opinion).

Peak Internet's ploy may not play out the way they hoped. Already a local news station ran with the story, allowing Petrick to highlight what appears to be well-documented evidence supporting his complaints about the speed.

I wonder: did attorney Ryan J. Klein explain the Streisand Effect to his client Peak Internet before filing the lawsuit?

It's not clear to me whether Petrick has counsel. If he wishes, I would be pleased to light the Popehat Signal to find pro bono counsel. Meanwhile, I think the story of an ISP that sues its customers over criticism is one that needs a little more attention. Do you agree? Have at it.

Thanks to tipster Carl.

Updated to add: commenters here and on Twitter point out that Peak Internet has gotten four abrupt good reviews on July 30 (the day after the local news story), all from first-time reviewers, all praising Peak Internet. No doubt a coincidence.

Second Update:

Mr. Petrick has sought my help. I am lighting the Popehat Signal.

New Popehat Signal courtesy of Nigel Lew.  Thanks, Nigel!

Mr. Petrick is disabled and does not have funds to hire an attorney to defend his free speech rights. Is there a lawyer out there who can help him in Teller County, Colorado?

We have the right to free speech — in theory. In practice, companies like Peak Internet, and lawyers like Mr. Klein, can trammel that right because the system lets them. It can be ruinously expensive to defend even the most transparently bogus and censorious case. To fight this trend of companies suing to remove bad reviews, we need people to step up. Might it be you? If not, will you help spread the word?

Good Update: I am reliably informed that Peak Internet and Mr. Petrick have resolved the case satisfactorily and Peak will be dismissing its case with prejudice — meaning permanently. Congrats to Mr. Petrick, a nod to Peak Internet for making the right decision after the wrong one, and thanks to several Colorado lawyers who offered to help.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. DaveCA says

    I commented too. Measuring the seconds it takes for them to delete it too.

    Edit: Less than a minute.

  2. DaveCA says

    They removed the comment feature on their page entirely. So I've taken to tweet at them instead.

  3. Sheriff Fathead says

    Ooh, four five-star Yelp reviews for Peak dated today, all from first-time reviewers.

    Two of them warn you about Yelp hiding favourable reviews, and one helpfully explains that you need to understand that a maximum speed means just that. Also, they support a lot of local charities.

  4. DaveCA says

    They're still there, in the 'reviews not recommended' section.

    Scroll almost to the bottom of the page, and you can see "21 reviews that are not recommended" in light gray.

  5. says

    Ah-ha, so they apparently just got filtered by Yelp.

    I wonder if their problem with reviews being buried is a function of Yelp seeing the submitter's IP and thinking that they work for Peak Internet, even if they're just a genuine customer. That would certainly be frustrating to a small business, but it wouldn't justify trying to suppress genuine customers' opinions through lawsuits or, assuming it was them posting, resorting to exactly what Yelp's systems are trying to deter: fake reviews.

  6. David C says

    From the complaint:

    Petrick published or caused to be published the statements set forth above in the same or substantially similar words.

    The same or similar words… as what? You haven't given us any words!

    statements or statements

    They're so vague, they don't even want to specify whether there is one or more than one statement they allege to be defamatory? (And they can't make up their minds between "statement was or statements were" and "statement or statements are", which bugs me for no good reason.)

    This feels like boilerplate done incorrectly. I hope this law firm didn't charge much.

  7. says

    Oh, this is really embarrassing, we have a bunch of friends at Sherman & Howard in Denver…I'm going to try and find out more…attorney-client privilege be damned.

  8. Nicholas Weaver says

    If a Popehat signal comes up, and there needs an independent Ph.D. expert on network measurement, feel free to send em my way….

  9. says

    One of the complaints in my SLAPP suit is that I said they don't believe in the 1st amendment. Yes, we're suing you because you said we don't believe in free speech.

  10. Hoare says

    Seems they don't like Spanish speaking people either ….

    Contact Us

    No "Press 1 For English" Here!
    You won't need to "Press 1 for English" when you call us. We're based in Woodland Park, CO and our sales and support staff all work from our main offices. You will always speak with a real, live person from Woodland Park everytime you call. Call and speak with us anytime, or drop by our office and see us in person.

  11. says

    Lessee… Petrick is tech savvy enough to test and log network speeds to separate servers, and to save those logs. His allegedly improper statement includes an acknowledgement that he saw the 4Mb minimum that the company says he should expect, but that he paid for more and is upset that he never saw that at all (per his logged tests), and averaged less than half of what he paid for. Sound like fact and fact-based opinion, backed up with documentation.

    I'll bet he has an interesting collection of emails from Peak as well.

    IANAL but I'd bet that Peak's best strategy would be to pray for a drunken, tech-ignorant judge and no jury, or to file for dismissal and then pray Petrick doesn't sue for legal expenses.

  12. melk says

    On the Yelp 5-star comments… Those seem to be gone entirely, now replaced by 4-star comments with pretty much the content described above. Why? Because Yelp is on to them about their 5 star comments.

  13. Mark says

    I'm the furthest thing from an attorney there is (software engineer).

    Did they have a software engineer write that complaint? There's no specific citation of defamatory statements, no citations of state, local or Federal law, none of the elements of "defamation per se" seem to be present (or, if present, cited). No documentation of damages; and given that Peak Internet serves the public, this seems to be a matter of public concern. The complaint seems to be pretty badly written (in the eyes of this non-professional).

    I imagine that there's some risk to Peak Internet as well: if the defense is truth, discovery could very well lead to details of Peak Internet's actual performance in service delivery. I'd want to be sure I looked very good to the outside world, before risking that disclosure.

  14. says

    Had the same problem with my MIL's Light internet from the phone company. She was barely getting 512 when it advertised 2MB. They said 512 was the minimum and showed me where it was on their website. VERY SMALL PRINT

  15. mcinsand says

    This suit, that dentist out west, Kleargear, and more do have a chilling effect on online speech. Together, they highlight a risk that some companies will resort to legal thuggery if a customer posts comments that they don't like, no matter how factual. I recently posted comments on a company's warranty department, and I paused a few times when choosing my words. The 'service' level disgusted me, but the more I thought about these lawsuits, the more I stuck with the facts. They can speak well enough for themselves.

  16. Scote says

    It would be nice if judges would just dismiss sua sponte any suit like this that is vague and improperly fails to state a validly specific claim. That would save so much hassle. I realize our civil law system is supposed to be adversarial, but I wish judges would be stricter on at least minimal standards which seem well within their purview.

  17. War Hamster says

    The complaint is very poorly written: it makes no specific claim, has bad grammer (see Item 6), lacks any citation of evidence, and gets its own internal references wrong (it incorporates the allegations "contained in paragraphs 1 through 9 above," when the allegations are contained in paragraphs 4 through 9). Who proofed this mess?

  18. says

    As someone who is about to explode because of impossibly poor service from my own ISP*, I found the timing just to good to pass up on linking to this. Mind you, the language is definitely not safe for work.

    * Each time it rains, my connection craps out. I'm in Florida. It's summer. How often do you think I actually have service?

  19. says

    The trouble with bad press for ISP's is that there's so little competition, it's unlikely to affect their business.

    Like most Americans, I hate my ISP. And like most Americans, I don't have any other viable options.

    Even if this goes very badly for Peak (and it probably will), I doubt they'll lose much business over it. Even if they wind up paying legal fees, it still might not be enough to discourage them from future censorship efforts.

  20. tbw says

    Not a Colorado lawyer, but many states, mine included, only require notice pleading. This appears sufficient to state a claim, and a lot of the things commenters are looking for just aren't required – citations to law, documentation, etc. Unless there are special damages, it is also typical for complaints to request damages in an amount to be proven at trial. I don't see enough here to accuse the lawyer of being tactically vague. If that turns out to be the case after discovery, fire away and award fees.

  21. jb says

    I see the problem. Of course he was experiencing slow speeds. No matter when he was trying to get online, it was during Peak usage time.

  22. Leigh says

    This phenomenon of companies posting fake positive reviews to try to drown out legitimate negative reviews is getting out of hand. Even law firms are now engaging in this unethical practice. Check out the 33 reviews of the Vienna, Virginia law firm of Leiser, Leiser & Hennessy, PLLC, on Google Maps/Local ( Notice how all the positive reviews are roughly the same length, say almost the same thing, and use the same unnatural language. I'm surprised Google doesn't seem to be able to weed fake reviews out.

  23. mdk says

    I ran a fixed wireless residential ISP myself for 9 years. Started from nothing, and ran every aspect.

    This is a common complaint among customers of fixed wireless, because the vast majority of operators think this is get rich quick scheme, don't understand their technology and further, badly overpromise and under deliver – because of the previous fact.

    If they can't produce a dated network test that proves they met their stated goals – and that being a test from the customer's premises, then they are just flat out wrong, on ALL aspects, even the technical.

  24. jb says

    It has gotten so bad that when I look at reviews, I skip the average review score and go straight to the 1- and 2- star reviews. If they sound reasonable, I avoid the product/company, regardless of the number of positive reviews. If they sound like insane cranks, I proceed.

    The problem is compounded by the fact that there are so many review sites out there, and honestly what kind of crazy person with what kind of time on their hands reviews a company/product online anyhow, so reviews are dominated by astroturfing, people with axes to grind, and the insane.

    As usual, there is an applicable XKCD:

  25. says

    Corporate thuggery at its best. I think we need more choice when it comes to service providers for internet. In the part of Houston in which we live we only have one choice for service due to backroom deals I guess. I hope he can find a lawyer, and can counter-sue under some form of vaguery unbeknownst to man. I'll see if I can get a few bloggers I know to reblog this.

    Found this story reblogged at a friend's site.

  26. sorrykb says

    @Leigh: Along with the very believable collection of only five-star reviews is the curious coincidence of the many things the reviewers have in common.

    The stress of legal troubles can make it hard to get a good night's sleep, which is no doubt why most of the reviewers have visited 1st Class Sleep Diagnostics. People frequently need legal services after a car accident — Lucky for these folks they found not just a good lawyer but also the dependable and affordable services of Bailey's Auto Body! And we all know that depositions and trials take up a lot of your time — Why not leave your furry friend at Four Paws Pet Resort for the day?

  27. Leigh says

    Wow, you're right! I hadn't noticed that before. The same collection of Google reviewers are mysteriously reviewing the same group of businesses. What's more, many of the overlapping reviewed businesses are in locations spread across the state. Funny thing is, these accounts have posted so many reviews of various businesses that Google gives them priority treatment as "Top Reviewers," rewarding the scammers rather than punishing them. Yelp seems to be doing a better job than Google of identifying the telltale signs of fake reviews.

  28. Russell Petrick says


    Thank you for writing about this. I have posted some info on an old site of mine:

    If anybody is looking for more technical information about this whole thing, I am willing to share it with you or post it on the page.

  29. Careless says

    A while back I noticed a large percentage of locksmiths had reviews from people who only left five star reviews for locksmiths across the country. Don't know if Google ever noticed it.

  30. ZarroTsu says


    Could we, like, make it 'heavily discouraged' to sue someone based on what they say, without explaining why, where, and how? And if people do it anyway, the Judge is obligated to read their case in a condescending tone, similar to that one would use when speaking to a small child?

  31. ZarroTsu says

    I also have to wonder how well it would go to reply to thug emails with 'Please Elaborate', with at least one follow-up when they inevitably refuse to respond.

  32. Ernie Gordon says

    "I wonder: did attorney Ryan J. Klein explain the Streisand Effect to his client Peak Internet before filing the lawsuit?"

    Ryan J. Klein, Order of the Coif.

    With his sloppy pleading, attorney Klein just confirms – as has been confirmed ad nauseam – that academic success does not translate well to the real world. And these Coifers seldom perform well in the courtroom.

  33. says

    Perhaps it would be better to say that academic success does not necessarily translate well to the real world. After all, it often does.

  34. Resolute says

    Looks like they took their Facebook page down entirely. An internet company reducing its internet footprint certainly seems like a winning move…

  35. I R A Darth Aggie says

    There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men for this treachery.

  36. Gene says

    It'd be interesting to hear more about the attorney's side of the business. Was Mr. Klein ignorant or just money hungry, or both? Is this common? I imagine he could have charged him for two hours and used that time to educate Peak on the potential pitfalls of media coverage, the lack of merits of the claim, and the poor likelihood of victory. Or he could start billing.

  37. Connie says

    Hello Mr. Petrick! Welcome to the Popehat. I hope they can find you the legal help you need to fight off the thuggery.

    Oh noes. Someone posted something not very nice about us with documentation to back up their complaint! – This is not a reason to sue/be sued.

  38. Ernie Gordon says

    @ David Byron

    Yes, I over generalized. But I've never forgot what a distinguished old professor told us to do way back in 1981; he said to wait 35 years and see who the successful lawyers from our class were – strongly intimating it would be the lower performers academically. He got that right, including the class ahead and behind. Its not just financial success, but in most areas the top 10% seem to have disappeared and when one looks for them, they are underperforming when compared to the bottom tier. I liken it to my 20+ years of teaching where the A students argued points after a test when the C students were grateful for a passing grade. I read about former C students from time to time who are lighting the world on fire, but I have yet to read about an A student doing the same thing. It's that old forest/trees thing.

  39. Dragoness Eclectic says

    @azteclady: re: Each time it rains, my connection craps out. I'm in Florida. It's summer. How often do you think I actually have service?

    That's a bad cable. Had the same problem a couple of times, but at least my ISP was willing to try stuff until we had functioning Internet again. Both times, they had to replace a stretch of cable. Get on the phone to your ISPs customer service and don't let 'em off the hook until they send a technician out to actually check out the cable from end-to-end. (Even from the office, they can do connectivity checks during the rainstorm, which should convince them of the problem unless they are completely useless.)

  40. Loren says

    Apparently the Popehat signal may have already had the desired effect. If you go to the site that Mr. Petrick posted earlier: You see the following statement: ** Peak Internet and I have resolved our disputes and the lawsuit has been dismissed. **

  41. jimmythefly says

    Erm, says here that they settled up?

    Is the Popehat signal not just a beacon pleading for assistance, but rather a cannon of righteousness that in and of itself assists?

  42. CJK says

    Seems to me if you claim to be an integral part of the Internet and do something to make the internet hate you, the best strategy would be a quick retreat.

  43. yodel says


    I will give them the benefit of the doubt on the "press 1" thing because I think they were trying to emphasize that a customer will get a live person not a damn phone tree menu.

  44. says

    Yay for a solution that doesn't cost Mr Petrick money!

    Double yay for lawyers willing to step in if necessary!


    @ Dragoness Eclectic: Yeah, I've tried that already–I've lost count of the hours I've been on the phone with them since July 3rd (when I lost connectivity for the whole holiday weekend, by the by).

    They have sent people, but never when they tell me they will come, so I get here five hours before the scheduled window to find a "sorry we missed you" stuck to the front door.

    And–the kicker–now they tell me that since their service is working for my neighbors, the problem must be inside my house, so they'll charge me for it.

    Because, obviously, it rains inside my house.

  45. Hoare says

    Russell's Yelp review now reads….
    "I was unhappy with the service so I cancelled after a week and used the money back guarantee. Support was quick though, which was nice."

    so who won?

  46. says

    Russell's Yelp review now reads….
    "I was unhappy with the service so I cancelled after a week and used the money back guarantee. Support was quick though, which was nice."

    so who won?

    If winning means Petrick's voice is not stifled, the Streisand effect has taken care of that now. He still doesn't have his fast internet service, though :(

  47. Tom says

    The 5-star Yelp reviews visible at the moment are from PA, NY and FL. For an ISP that only serves part of Colorado. Do they really think they are fooling anybody?

  48. TB says

    @Hoare @AlphaCentauri: I don't know whether it's visible to the world at large*, but I posted a review on Yelp regarding this lawsuit and Mr. White's post about it.
    Needless to say, while Mr. Petrick's review may change, my review will NOT. Although I've added a star to the rating and updated the text to reflect the resolution of the dispute, I fully intend for at least one review to remain behind to warn others that Great Stupidity Was Once Done Here.
    ( * My review shows up for ME, but Yelp's review display logic is Byzantine, so it may not be displaying for others.)

  49. Resolute says

    Glad to see Peak corrected course. It is always nice to see when a company learns from a mistake and helps create a positive resolution.

  50. thegeek says

    Well it took them while, probably because I posted at night, but they killed my comment and blocked me on facebook.

  51. VTer says

    They have a brand new five star review from Emery T., who claims to have "just moved to the area." Take a look at their reviews. The account screams of being a shill account.

  52. says

    Side Note: Because of various internet-ee things the complainer may well have been getting complete and full speed. I know its all resolved and such, but "internet speed" would have been virtually impossible to prove factually. Because the various protocols encompasing IP (Internet Protocol) et al, you will regularly "appear to lose" a good bit of your bandwidth. For instance your 10Mbps ethernet segment will not typically run faster than 8Mbps effective speed between two hosts under _ideal_ conditions. Then there is overhead (the data needed to get your data where it needs to go) that comes out of your effective throughput. And then there is some fuzzier stuff happening in routers and whatnot that shaves off percentages.

    For instance a cable modem is basically time division multiplexed. You are allocated fixed little hunks of time. If you miss the start of your time slot when sending a packet, it's going to wait for your turn to come arouned again.

    Basically your ISP is selling you slots on a clock — this is why the whole usage cap and measure thing is such a profound ripoff — but its essentially impossible to use all your slots. But the more slots you have the less you are likely to experience human preceptable delays in things like games.

    Here's the big thing. If you start a file download and it tells you that you are getting X megabits of _user_ data per second, that is _not_ the same number as the amount of data that the ISP has sold you. You might think it would be, but it just doesn't apply, and there are significant technical reasons.

    For example I can get about 11 Mb/s of "real data" to my laptop through my Comcast 15 Mb/s link and my home network for a single stream.

    The reason I mention this at all is that even if the reviewer kept scrupulous records he likely doesn't even know how to properly measure what he bought, or more precisely the actual meaning of what he bought.

    And the evil ISP, censurous douchebags though they might be, are not "pulling a fast one" by selling things using the numbers they use. Capacity (the number representing the absolute bits over time that _could_ be asserted as zero-or-one) and Throughput (the number of bits that are meaningfully set to zero or one over that same time) are just not the same thing at all. And Effective Throughput™ is not something that any ISP can control because that measures things from say, "you" to say "google" and that may involve many more people doing things than just the ISP.

    There are a number of "black arts" involved in making the internet work. It was designed to "route around damage" and so it's very tollerant of chaos. Because of that, the protocols you use are also rather chaotic themselves when viewed as a whole. It gets _ugly_ and I've had to explain it to actual providers with charts and graps and handing around multi-colored tennis balls (seriously, tennis balls!) to describe the issues of even knowing when to start and stop the stopwatch on some kinds of data measurements. And this was to explain to my coworker how to tell AT&T Mobile why measuring internet data througput wasn't like measuring voice data bits per second.

    It's actually "hard" to measure this stuff meaningfully.

    Then when you add the firewall router POS that the customer is using and their internet appliance (e.g. windows computer or MAC etc) with whatever else they've got going on (500 open things in their tool bar and a piece of malware that is redirecting their searches through a bot net in Russia) any user making "factual claims" of throughput is probably wrong.

    So yea, the ISP was probably a douche, but anybody who has ever worked in retail can tell you that the customer is _always_ wrong, if they aren't outright lying to begin with.