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Viewers File Suit Over Bundling

Some cable subscribers are suing major cable programmers and operators to get their programming a la carte, as well as for millions of dollars in damages.

The multimillion-dollar class-action suit, filed by veteran antitrust attorney Maxwell Blecher on behalf of 14 cable and satellite subscribers from a variety of cities, says the companies violate antitrust laws by bundling programming in expanded basic tiers. The plaintiffs asked the federal district court in Los Angeles to stop the firms from “bundling expanded basic-cable channels and ordering defendant cable providers and direct-broadcast satellite providers to notify their subscribers that they each can purchase 'a la carte' [separately] except for 'basic cable.'”

That basic-cable caveat covers the lifeline basic package that includes the TV stations cable must carry per government mandate. The subscribers say they have been injured because they have been “deprived of choice, have been required to purchase product they do not want and have paid inflated prices.”

The suit seeks treble damages, citing the alleged antitrust violations and arguing that “contracts between the programmer defendants and the cable and direct-broadcast satellite providers constitute a combination among and between the named defendants to monopolize trade and commerce in the relevant product market,” in violation of the Sherman Act. It also alleges restraint of trade.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesperson Joy Sims says the group's view of a la carte hasn't changed. “Several government and private studies have shown that required a la carte would lessen programming choice, decrease diversity in programming and raise prices for most cable customers,” she said.

The suit names NBC Universal, Viacom, Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Comcast, Cox Communications, DirecTV, EchoStar Communications, Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems.