A federal judge has overturned an Oklahoma jury's decision to make Cox Communications pay up to $19 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging the cable company coerced customers into leasing set-tops.
"There simply is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that that arrangement led to a foreclosure of commerce," said Judge Robin Cauthron.
Last month, the Jury ruled that Cox should pay $6.31 million to the plaintiffs, an amount that could be tripled once attorney's fees were factored in and more customers joined the class-action complaint.
In three days of deliberation, the jury found that there were simply not enough options for local cable customers to purchase set-tops that work on Cox's system. If these customers wanted access to pay-TV programming, the jury essentially ruled that they had no choice but to lease boxes from Cox.
Cox, the jury ruled, had broken anti-trust law. But Judge Cauthron didn't see it that way.
"The court finds that the plaintiffs failed to offer evidence from which a jury could determine that any other manufacturer wished to sell set-top boxes at retail or that Cox had acted in a manner to prevent any other manufacturer from selling set-top boxes at retail," she said. "Because of this, there is no evidence that defendant foreclosed any competition."
Cox responded with this statement, released to the Washington Post: "Cox's primary goal is to provide its customers with high value video services, and this victory ensures that Cox will be free to continue to provide those services in the future."
The issue of consumer choice for pay-TV set-tops has become both legally and politically charged, with members of the U.S. Senate actively petitioning the FCC to regulate a set-top leasing business they say nets pay-TV operators $20 billion in revenue a year.
Meantime, the cable industry's main lobbying group, the National Cable Telecommunications Association, is busy trying to petition the FCC itself on the topic, as the agency looks to create a new security standard that would enable retail-sold set-tops to be included in the pay-TV ecosystem.
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