Comcast gets Pennsylvania judge to toss installers’ antitrust suit

A federal judge ruled that the installers had failed to support their antitrust claim against Comcast.

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has tossed out a lawsuit filed against Comcast last year by two local installation contractors, who claim the cable company enticed them to ramp up staff, but then shifted its installation business to a lower bidder. 

But while granting Comcast’s motion for a summary judgment, Judge Robert Mariani of the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania allowed plaintiffs Cable Line Inc. and McLaughlin Communications to file a second amended complaint. The proceedings were reported on by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Mariani ruled that the installers had failed to support their antitrust claim against Comcast. “In this case, plaintiffs have not alleged that there are any marketwide anticompetitive effects beyond their own injury,” the judge said.

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In their complaint, Cable Line Inc. and McLaughlin Communications claim in a federal lawsuit that Comcast urged them to make capital expenditures to pursue business in the Mid-Atlantic region with the cable company. But Comcast, they argued, had already began embarking on a secret plan to "kill off" its reliance on regional cable installation firms. 

According to the lawsuit, Comcast reduced the number of outside installation firms it used from 176 in 2009 to just 39 by 2012.

"The contracts are very clear about the parties' rights, and we were not required to do business with these companies,” Comcast spokesperson Jenni Moyer said when the suit was filed in June 2016.

Cable Line and McLaughlin also sued larger installation contractors Decisive Communications and Vital Communications, accusing them of supporting an alleged Comcast business strategy that they said included not acknowledging invoices, not billing for service calls and falsifying performance metrics. The plaintiffs further argued that Comcast favored larger contractors who could absorb these unfair billing practices. 

In his ruling, Judge Mariani cited legal precedent dictating that, “Business practices—however unseemly, hurtful, or otherwise unlawful—do not constitute antitrust violations unless they harm, or at least endanger, competition."

“Comcast, as the end consumer in the cable installation market, has every motive to select the suppliers it views as the cheapest or easiest to work with,” Mariani added.