A Huntington, WV, resident has filed a class action lawsuit against the cable provider Comcast, alleging that the stipulation that customers pay a separate fee for a cable box is illegal. Comcast reportedly provides more than 24 million customers with cable services in more than 39 states.
Comcast currently rents out digital cable boxes to its customers for between $10 and $15 per month, on top of the monthly fee for cable service. The suit alleges that this practice constitutes "tying". Tying essentially describes a situation where a service can only be used if the customer obtains a separate product made available by the same company which is offering the service. This practice is in violation of federal and state trade laws.
The suit filed against Comcast claims that the company "has a monopoly in areas in which it provides cable television services to persons located in each of the states in which Comcast provides cable services, or otherwise has sufficient market power to appreciably restrain free competition."
Furthermore, the suit alleges that Comcast tells its customers that that cable boxes are incompatible with other cable services , therefore "Plaintiff, and all other Comcast television subscribers in the states in which Comcast provides cable services, have no choice but to contract with Comcast for cable television services," the suit states.
Additionally, the complaint charges that over a period of several months the rental fees paid total more than the box is worth: that Comcast buys the cable boxes at a fixed and low cost from manufacturers like Scientific Atlanta and Motorola and then rents them out to its customers.