Comcast, AT&T 'Box' In Chicago

The cable-telco legal melee of the week: Comcast claimsAT&T’s U-Verse services have caused “significant damage” to 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 fired the first legal salvo, a false-advertising suit on March 21 against Comcast in federal court in Chicago. The telco asserted that a Comcast ad campaign falsely states AT&T will install “giant utility boxes” on customers' properties. AT&T says the boxes — called video-ready access devices (VRADs) — 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 struck back. A countersuit on April 20 claimed shoddy AT&T installs resulted in damaging interference with Comcast's cable infrastructure and left hundreds of customers without phone, Internet and TV service.

Comcast complained that improper AT&T U-verse installations caused network disruptions at least 40 times since February. 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.

“AT&T has been aware of this problem for more than a year and yet they have failed to fix the issue,” Comcast director of corporate communications Charlie Douglas said in a statement.

Responded AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Parker, “We think Comcast's suit lacks merit and will vigorously fight it as the case continues.”

Sadly, though, the 5-foot-3-inch-tall, 35-cubic-feet VRADs probably are too big to appear in court.