Should Cable Companies Force Customers to Rent Box

Oct 25, 2012

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A former state Supreme Court judge is suing his cable company on behalf of all of the customers forced to rent one of those set-top boxes to get premium service.

Customers who want only basic cable generally can just plug their sets into the coax outlet in the wall. But if you want an interactive guide, movies on demand or a high-def picture, that means digital -- and a converter box. The problem according to Stanley Feldman is you have to rent it from Cox Communications for $7 a month -- forever. Cox won't sell you a box. And the system is set up to reject boxes from outside companies. Todd Schneider, Feldman's attorney, said state and federal laws prohibit companies with market power from requiring you to buy or rent something you don't want to get something you do. And Schneider rejected arguments there are technical reasons customers can't hook up their own boxes to the cable and save the monthly fee.

"The boxes that we have in our houses are built by third parties," Schneider said. "They're not built by Cox. Cox didn't invent anything. Most people will have a Motorola box. In our view of the world there's no reason why Motorola can't, rather than sell that box to Cox and have Cox rent it to me, why I couldn't just go out and buy it directly from Motorola."

Schneider said it's no different than the long-abandoned argument the old Ma Bell made years ago that only rented phones from the company could be hooked up. A Cox spokeswoman said in a prepared the company's business practices are -- quote -- straightforward, fair and in full compliance with applicable state and federal regulations.