Jury: Cox Violated Antitrust Laws By Forcing Customers To Rent Set-Top Boxes

Should you be forced to be required to pay your cable company extra money for a set-top box in order to get cable TV service you’re already paying for? According to a federal jury in Oklahoma, which recently returned a $6.31 million verdict against Cox Communications, the answer is no.

The jury verdict is the conclusion (for now) of a class action suit alleging that Cox violated state and federal antitrust laws by making set-top box rental a condition of getting full access to premium cable service from the company.

According to court documents [PDF], the plaintiff contends that Cox was able to make the rented boxes a requirement “because it has substantial market power with respect to the provision of Premium Cable in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.”

But Cox countered that customers in the area could get pay-TV service from DirecTV or Dish. Additionally, the cable operator said boxes from TiVo and others could be purchased at retail and would have provided access to most of the same features provided by a Cox box.

However, these commonly available devices did not provide access to all the services Cox makes available, like pay-per-view video.

Cox contended that there were some third-party boxes — so-called “two-way” devices — available for purchase that would have provided Oklahoma City customers full access to Cox programming, but that it’s not the company’s fault that these weren’t readily available from retailers in the area.

After a trial at a federal court in Oklahoma earlier this month, the jury came back with a $6.31 million verdict against Cox. Plaintiffs’ attorneys say the final award could be trebled, putting the total at just short of $19 million.

But this is likely not the end of the road. In court documents filed yesterday [PDF] Cox argues that the verdict should be overturned “as the jury did not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for plaintiff.”

The company says, among other claims, that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Cox coerced customers into renting set-top boxes.

“In fact, the evidence in the record is that Cox told its subscribers that they could use retail two-way devices if the manufacturers of those devices decided to sell them at retail,” reads the filing, which contends that Cox tried to work with multiple manufacturers to make set-top boxes available at retail, but that it does not run those businesses and can’t tell them what to do.

“Cox could not and did not control the go-to-market decisions of set-top box manufacturers,” argues the cable operator.

[via MultiChannel.com]

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