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A federal judge in Westchester, N.Y., has ruled that a satellite television provider cannot use wiring installed in a building by a cable company as long as the cable company still serves customers in the building. The ruling from Southern District of New York Judge Colleen McMahon granted partial summary judgment to Cablevision, which is involved in a dispute with DirecTV over a complex of condos in Yonkers. The dispute arose in April 2001, when Westchester Terrace at Crisfield Condominium, the owner of the building, advised Cablevision that DirecTV would soon be providing service to residents. In a letter from its attorney, the owner said DirecTV would splice its service into Cablevision’s wiring, which runs throughout the building and into each apartment. Cablevision had wired the building and had a nonexclusive contract to provide cable television to residents. It did not object to DirecTV’s attempt to compete for customers, according to McMahon’s opinion, but it did object when DirecTV used its equipment. In CSC Holdings Inc. v. Westchester Terrace at Crisfield Condominium, 01 Civ. 8134, Judge McMahon said DirecTV could lawfully compete with Cablevision, but it could not use the cable company’s wiring without paying for it. The judge rejected arguments that Public Service Law � 228, New York’s cable access statute, gave the condominium’s owner the right to authorize DirecTV to use Cablevision’s wiring in an attempt, the judge said, to “prevent tenant disruption and to preserve the appearance of the building.” “There is nothing reasonable about insisting that a competitor be allowed to use [Cablevision's] existing equipment free of charge,” Judge McMahon wrote. The judge also rejected claims that DirecTV was entitled to relief under PSL � 228, since the statute applies only to franchised cable system operators, not satellite television companies. DirecTV is free to compete with Cablevision, the judge said, but will have to invest in wiring and “convince [residents] to deal with whatever inconvenience” the installation causes. The judge stressed that Cablevision clearly had a right to serve residents of the building because the building’s owner had not attempted to end its relationship with the provider. Despite knowing of this access agreement, the judge said, the owner and DirecTV “acted jointly” to use Cablevision’s wiring “without its consent.” NOT CURRENTLY FRANCHISED The fact that Cablevision is not currently franchised in Yonkers did not change the matter, the judge said, since the company has served the area under temporary agreements for five years while paying “millions of dollars in franchise fees.” Judge McMahon left several issues for trial, including whether DirecTV had intercepted Cablevision’s signal — a violation of 47 U.S.C. � 553 — by splicing the wires. Cablevision claims that “signal leakage,” or a weakened signal, is evidence of an interruption under federal law. DirecTV contends that 47 U.S.C. � 553 was enacted to deter theft of cable service, not “good faith” attempts to use wiring. Robert H. Hermann of New York-based Thacher Proffitt & Wood, which represented Cablevision, said the ruling addressed “an important issue in terms of competitive advantage.” W. James MacNaughton in Woodbridge, N.J., who represented DirecTV, could not be reached for comment.

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