Set-Top Spat

3:45 PM -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw is the latest to hit Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) with a set-top-related lawsuit, this one alleging that the MSO is violating state antitrust and consumer laws because it requires customers to rent set-tops to gain access to premium channels. Comcast is already facing the specter of a class action suit on the matter, but McGraw, who originally filed the suit in July, is now arguing that the state has enforcement jurisdiction. However, U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp will have the final say on where the case belongs, according to the West Virginia Record. A woman in Stockton, Calif., filed a similar complaint against Comcast late last year, and another individual from Charleston, W.Va., Harry Bell, filed a class acton against the MSO earlier this year. (See Woman Bites MSO.) And this general complaint is growing more common. Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), for example, has also been hit with a suit over its set-top policies. (See Man Bites MSO .) Although most digital cable customers do rent set-tops, it's not always the only option, which the cable guys will surely point out. There are numerous one-way "Plug & Play" digital TVs, and some TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and Digeo Inc. DVRs that can feed in premium programming using a CableCARD. Further out, tru2way intends to open up a retail market for interactive boxes and TVs that can also do cable video-on-demand (VoD), but that's not expected to happen in a meaningful way for at least another year. (See Tru2way's Retail Forecast: Cloudy and Digeo HD-DVR Enters Retail Waters .) Interestingly, McGraw has not pointed the finger in this way at DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH), or any telco TV provider in the state. Just about every service provider in that group also requires customers to use set-top boxes to receive programming, and not just the premium channels. But, to be fair, McGraw has not spewed venom only at Comcast. Earlier this year, his office and Dish reached a settlement stemming from complaints about Dish-related billing problems, service issues, and "deceptive advertising." — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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