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Small Florida Op Upheld In Claim Against Comcast

A federal appeals court has upheld a judgment for a small cable operator in Florida against a Comcast cable operation accused of anti-competitive behavior.

In 2006, a federal-court jury awarded 9,000-subscriber Marco Island Cable, which operates on a barrier island near Naples, Fla., a $3.2 million judgment against Comcast Cablevision of the South. The sum was reduced to $800,000 in 2007 after Comcast appealed. Comcast appealed that judgment, too.

Three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed U.S. District Judge John E. Steele's 2007 judgment after hearing oral arguments last October. A copy of their Feb. 13 decision can be found here.

Marco Island Cable sued Comcast in 2004, claiming the bigger cable operator used unfair business practices against the smaller firm in condominiums, apartment buildings and other multiple dwelling units (MDUs).

Marco Island Cable owner Bill Gaston told Multichannel News in 2006 he decided to sue after Comcast technicians came to a condo building that had recently switched its account to Marco Island and threatened to tear Comcast-owned wiring out of the wall. Comcast said at that time it was proud of the products and services it provided in the region.

The appeals court judges found that "a review of the trial record reflects sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Comcast violated [Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act] by asserting ownership of inside wiring in Marco Island MDUs in the manner that it did and despite the fact that Comcast may not have owned the inside wiring."

The judges also wrote: "The jury could have concluded that Comcast violated the Act by dishonestly asserting that it owned the inside wiring. The jury could have concluded that Comcast violated the Act by knowingly misrepresenting its rights to charge MDU owners for the inside wiring or its rights to remove that wiring. And, the jury could have concluded that Comcast violated the Act by using the deceptive and bullying conduct we have described to induce the MDUs into contracting with Comcast. A reasonable jury also could have found that these actions by Comcast proximately caused Marco damage."

Gaston said in a release on Feb. 17: "This has been a long, difficult and expensive lawsuit, but I am gratified that the 11th Circuit agreed with the evidence presented at the trial that Comcast has used unfair and deceptive practices to prevent Marco Island Cable from competing with Comcast."

Comcast Cable Coastal Region VP of government affairs Bill Ferry said in a statement: "We are disappointed with the outcome and feel many of our arguments were not addressed. We do not believe that the opinion fairly or accurately describes Comcast's conduct. We are evaluating our options including asking the court to reconsider."

Karen A. Larson was local and appellate counsel for Marco Island Cable. Jim Baller, of the Baller Herbst Law Group in Washington, D.C., was Marco Island Cable's lead trial and appellate attorney.