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A federal judge has ruled that the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 provides a private cause of action that allows cable television service providers to sue land developers who allegedly thwart competition by granting exclusive access to a single cable provider. In his 21-page opinion in RCN Telecom Services Inc. v. DeLuca Enterprises Inc., U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel found that the Cable Act was designed not only to ” create a regulatory framework,” but also to “ encourage the growth and development of cable systems.” That second purpose, Stengel said, “brings cable franchises into the class for whose especial benefit the statute was enacted.” Since the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has never addressed the question, Stengel applied the four-prong test for deciding whether Congress intended to create a private cause of action articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1975 decision in Cort v. Ash. He concluded that Congress intended to allow cable providers to file suit to enforce the Cable Act. “It seems inconsistent to deny a private right of action to a party well-suited to promote the growth of the development of a cable system,” Stengel wrote. “The stated purpose of the Cable Act would be thwarted, not advanced, by the denial of a private cause of action to a cable company.” As a result, Stengel rejected the reasoning of a Middle District of Pennsylvania judge who found the law does not provide a private cause of action, and opted instead to follow decisions from the 4th and 11th circuits holding that it does. Stengel said he found the 11th Circuit’s 1988 decision in Centel Cable Television Co. v. Admiral’s Cove Associates Ltd. “particularly persuasive” because the appellate court “observ[ed] that cable companies are the parties best suited to vindicate the rights provided in the Cable Act.”

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