Skip to main content

Harold Farrow, Prominent Attorney, Dies

Harold Farrow — a West Coast attorney who challenged and changed the standards for municipal cable franchises — died in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Oct. 17. He was 75 and had leukemia.

Farrow founded the Walnut Creek firm now known as Farrow, Bramson, Baskin & Plutzik. He became involved in the cable industry when a law school classmate, Walter Kaitz, asked for assistance on a legal problem faced by the then-California Community Television Association, which at the time had six members.

He went on to serve the California Cable Television Association as special counsel for 15 years. He represented that trade group and the then-National Cable Television Association before the Federal Communications Commission on a rulemaking that codified the right of cable operators to use utility poles for their plant without signing high-priced leases.

He was best known for two lawsuits against franchising terms, both of which went to the U.S. Supreme Court. He won both cases.

In the first, Community Communications Co. v. City of Boulder
(Colo.), Farrow argued in 1982 that cities were guilty of antitrust violations for negotiating with and selecting a single operator to provide cable TV in a community.

In 1983, he took on the city of Los Angeles on behalf of two brothers who wanted a franchise to serve the South Central area of the city. The city refused their application, arguing that physical impediments, such as lack of space on poles for multiple providers, made a second operator in the community infeasible.

Farrow attacked the city's stance, arguing in Preferred Communications Inc. v Los Angeles
that the policy violated the free-speech rights of cable competitors. The case marked the first time the industry's First Amendment rights were acknowledged by the court.

case was remanded to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles where, eight years after the dispute was begun, the judge struck down 11 of the city's franchising standards. Judge Consuelo Marshall faulted the municipal practice of reserving multiple channels for the city's use, as well as the term of franchise, among other requirements.

These days, Los Angeles welcomes a second, and sometimes a third, operator to serve its franchises. But Preferred Communications Inc. never filed again for a cable franchise.

Recently, Farrow had cut back on his legal practice and had operated Merlot Nursery in his hometown.