Federal Judge Robert C. "Chuck" Chambers

CHARLESTON – A Huntington man has filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Comcast, alleging that the cable company's requirement of customers to pay a separate fee for a cable box is illegal.

Meanwhile, the federal judge that was assigned the case, Robert C. Chambers, has stepped down from presiding over the case because he is a Comcast subscriber.

"Although I am not a named plaintiff, I assume I am a putative member of that class as I am a current subscriber of cable services from Comcast," Chambers wrote in an April 30 order.

U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin has been assigned the case, which was filed by Gordon Ramey II on April 10.

The case centers on the cable boxes Comcast rents out to its digital cable and premium cable customers for between $10 and $15 per month in addition to the monthly cable bill.

Ramey's lawsuit alleges this practice constitutes an illegal "tying arrangement" which restrains trade against state and federal laws. "Tying" refers to when a company offers a service that can only be used by obtaining a separate product made by the same company that is providing the initial service.

"Comcast has a monopoly in areas in which it provides cable television services to persons located in each of the states in which Comcast provides cable services, or otherwise has sufficient market power to appreciable restrain free competition," the complaint alleges.

"Plaintiff, and all other Comcast television subscribers in the states in which Comcast provides cable services, have no choice but to contract with Comcast for cable television services."

Ramey alleges that Comcast tells its customers that other cable boxes aren't compatible with the cable signal "even though cable boxes are available on the open market that would readily permit members of the class to view" the cable offered by Comcast.

The complaint says that in a matter of months, the rental fees for the boxes add up to more than what the box is worth.

The plaintiff alleges that Comcast buys the cable boxes at a fixed and low cost from manufacturers like Scientific Atlanta and Motorola and then rents them out to customers.

Comcast serves more than 24 million customers in 39 states, the complaint says.

Charleston attorney Harry Bell is representing Ramey.

U.S. District Court case number: 3:09-0353

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