Bad cases make bad law

By The West Virginia Record | May 22, 2009

Filed under "be careful what you wish for," Charleston lawyer Harry Bell is asking a federal judge to start regulating the cable television industry.

Bell has filed a class action lawsuit against Comcast, claiming the company is somehow breaking "state and federal laws" by renting digital cable boxes to its customers. He wants the court to intervene and allow him to sue the cable giant on behalf of tens of millions of subscribers he claims are being duped.

Bell's argument -- that we shouldn't have to pay monthly cable box fees -- sounds good. That's its feel good intent. But stripped to essentials, it looks like nothing more than a legal vehicle by which conflict can be stirred up and huge chunks of legal fees can be made.

Frustrated Comcast subscribers might applaud his efforts. But before doing so, consider what we know for certain. If the court lets this case proceed, Mr. Bell is guaranteed a rich payday. And in the end, Comcast subscribers will be paying for it.

There isn't a rich tycoon named Charlie Comcast ready to dig into his pockets to pay the piper. Companies get revenue from their customers -- which means you.

Bell's pleadings aside, there exists no "law" against cable companies charging for cable boxes. Bell is asking a judge to make one, injecting himself as all-knowing czar of the U.S. digital entertainment business.

Why stop at cable box rental fees? Why not cap monthly charges for HBO and Showtime? Or guarantee free remote controls to all? It's only fair, right?

Regulating Comcast isn't the job of our judiciary. West Virginia's state Legislature has the license to tell Comcast how to do its business. It rarely does for good reason: businesses vote with their feet.

Throttle Comcast with too many regulations and it may just leave. Politicians know this, and politicians don't want angry constituents who can't get cable in their area.

Politicians also know that Comcast has competitors who will take away their business if charges get too high. Competition works to the benefit of the public.

Life is different for federal judges. Their lifetime appointments means they represent the people, get paid by the people, but they don't answer directly to the people. At times that's best. This is not one of those times.

Bell thinks otherwise, which is why he has taken his case to U.S. District Court and not the state Capitol. He's in search of a federal judge with a big ego who's itching to become a legislator.

He should not succeed.

More News

The Record Network