Comcast killed Texas cable owner's business, suit says

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Tony Luna, a small-time cable operator, says in a court suit that Comcast Corp. contractors cut his cable lines in a Texas town, driving him out of business.

Weston Lakes is a gated community of gracious Mediterranean-style single-family homes and a private golf course.

Tony Luna, a small-time Texas cable operator, bought the rundown cable operation in Weston Lakes, about 35 miles west of Houston, in 2007 and upgraded it for high-speed internet and TV services to compete with AT&T, passing out his cell phone number and personally responding to calls for repairs. He had about 100 subscribers.

“I loved Tony’s little company because we got what we needed,” said Weston Lakes subscriber Roseann Nettles, 56, on Sunday. “We had HBO and a couple of movie channels. But we got only one. He had Fox News and CNN. So people out here were pretty satisfied.”

Luna, 51, now says in a Texas lawsuit that more than a year after Comcast Corp. talked with him about buying out his company, Telecom Cable LLC, the cable giant’s contractors repeatedly cut his underground cable lines in the summer of 2015. Those cuts swiftly drove him out of business as Comcast expanded into his Weston Lakes turf.

His suit in the District Court in Harris County seeks more than $1 million in damages, claiming negligence and conspiracy.

Weston Lakes officials asked Comcast, a big cable-TV and internet provider in Houston, to build out its network to the community, Comcast’s spokesman in Houston, Ray Purser said on Monday.  “We disagree with Telecom’s claim and will vigorously defend ourselves,”  he said.

According to the suit, Luna began talking with Comcast in 2013, even giving Comcast officials a map of his cable lines that ran underground as part of the talks. Comcast also sent officials from its regional headquarters in Denver to look at his system, according to the suit, filed on June 14. But they could not agree on a price.

In mid-2015, Luna learned that Comcast would be expanding into Weston Lakes to compete with him instead of buying him out. The suit says he marked his cable lines with flags and orange paint. But Comcast’s contractors repeatedly cut his cable lines as they dug trenches for Comcast’s new cable lines, the suit says. The suit named the contractors as Aspen Utility Co. LLC and A&A Cable Contractors Inc. The suit says that contractors believed that the orange paint marked “abandoned” cable lines instead of live ones. An official with A&A declined comment. Aspen Utility could not be reached.

In an interview on Saturday, Luna described frantic days when the Comcast contractors came to Weston Lakes with backhoes and boring machines in June 2015. His service center reported customers out of internet almost immediately as he quickly responded to patch damaged cable, only to respond to another complaint of a cut cable line in another area of the community. He estimated in the suit that he patched 4,000 feet of Telecom Cable line. He said he could not contact anyone from Comcast because he had just a generic customer service phone number.

After about six weeks of this, Luna said he decided he couldn’t keep up with the damage to his cable lines.  His customers weren’t happy. Said Luna: “It doesn’t really look like it was just an accident.”