Kansas Man Seeks Cable-Box Choice, Sues Time Warner

The antitrust lawsuit claims it's unfair that customers can't get premium cable service from Time Warner unless they use the company's box and pay a monthly rental fee.
A Kansas man has filed a lawsuit against Time Warner, demanding that the company let him buy his TV cable box from whomever he chooses.

Matthew Meeds of Fairway, Kan., filed the lawsuit this week in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., and is seeking class-action status on behalf of Time Warner customers in the state, The Kansas City Star reported Friday. The suit was filed against Time Warner Cable and Time Warner, which owns 84% of the cable operator.

In the antitrust lawsuit, Meeds claims it's unfair that he cannot get premium cable service from Time Warner unless he uses their box and pays a monthly rental fee. The real estate agent's lawsuit claims the arrangement harms competition since it shuts out cable-box manufacturers that might sell similar products for less.

A Time Warner spokesman told the newspaper the company had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. "Obviously, people have the right to make claims through the legal process, and we'll certainly review it and respond accordingly," Time Warner spokesman Damon Porter said.

Meeds' lawsuit may be the first to challenge the cable-box arrangement as a violation of antitrust law, the newspaper said. However, the plaintiff's lawyer John Edgar said it wouldn't be the last.

Edgars compared Time Warner's tactics to those of AT&T before the government broke up the telephone monopoly decades ago. Before then, AT&T would rent telephones to customers.

"I think the same thing is present here," Edgars told the newspaper. "You have a lot of companies out there manufacturing these boxes, and there's nothing necessarily proprietary about them. ... They only cost about $30 or $40 at most, and they're charging around $15 a month for them."

New York-based Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable operator in the nation.