AT&T, Comcast Trade Jabs In Chicago

In the latest cable-telco legal dustup, Comcast this week alleged that AT&T’s U-verse services have caused severe interference over its coaxial cable network in the Chicago area—while the telephone company is seeking to block the cabler’s ads that poke fun at the large outdoor boxes used to deliver U-verse TV.

AT&T initiated legal action March 21, filing a false-advertising suit against Comcast in Chicago federal court. The telco asserted that Comcast’s ad campaign falsely states that AT&T will install “giant utility boxes” on its customers’ properties.

The Comcast ads—with the headline, “AT&T not only blocks your house, it blocks your HD options”—refer to AT&T’s video-ready access devices (VRADs) and tout Comcast’s “more than 200 hours” of HD programming as providing more options.

Comcast began running the “giant utility boxes” ads after AT&T widened the rollout of U-verse in Chicago suburbs in January, where the service is available in parts of 175 communities.

The VRADs are indeed large, cabinet-like boxes. But AT&T, in its complaint, says the boxes each serve up to 750 homes and only occasionally are placed on private property with the consent of the owner.

“Purchasing AT&T television service offerings does not result in a VRAD being placed in a customer’s yard,” AT&T said.

Comcast defended its ads in court filings, saying the VRADs “are large and unsightly” and that placement of the boxes “has generated significant public controversy in these communities.”

The case is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by Judge Elaine Bucklo.

On April 20, Comcast filed a countersuit, alleging that shoddy AT&T installs have resulted in damaging interference with Comcast’s cable infrastructure and have left hundreds of customers without phone, Internet or TV service.

According to the Comcast complaint, improper AT&T U-verse installations have caused network disruptions at least 40 times since February, “causing significant damage to Comcast and its customers.”

The problems occur, Comcast said, when customers have both U-verse and Comcast services. In certain cases, feedback from U-verse equipment has caused outages of entire Comcast nodes, which have affected more than 17,000 Chicago-area subscribers.

“In some circumstances, poorly installed U-verse service is degrading our network and disrupting our customers’ services,” Comcast director of corporate communications Charlie Douglas said in a statement. “AT&T has been aware of this problem for more than a year and yet they have failed to fix the issue.”

Asked to comment, AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Parker said, "We think Comcast's suit lacks merit and will vigorously fight it as the case continues. We think the judge appropriately declined to act on Comcast's request for a temporary restraining order.”