The former owner of a small internet service provider in South Texas is suing Comcast, accusing the telecom giant of intentionally—or by way of its own negligence—destroying his business and seizing his customers.
The lawsuit was filed in the District Court of Harris County, Texas, by Anthony Luna, the owner of Telecom Cable LLC, a small business which had for eight years provided cable and internet services to roughly 230 households in the Houston area.
On Thursday, Comcast forcefully denied the allegations, telling Gizmodo: “We disagree with Telecom’s claim and will vigorously defend ourselves.”
Luna’s complaint alleges that, starting on June 15, 2015, Comcast—via its contractors, Aspen Utility Company, LLC and A&A Cable Contractors, Inc.—began to “destroy” his company’s underground cables, killing off his business over a period of six weeks.
Luna says during that summer he learned Comcast was expanding into Weston Lakes, one of the two areas serviced by his now-defunct company. According to his complaint, knowing that Comcast’s contractors would be laying down cable alongside his own, Luna began marking his underground lines with orange paint and “buried cable flags.” He also claims to have mailed Comcast a map of his telecom system.
Much of Luna’s case rests on his adherence to the Texas Utilities Code and whether or not he did, in fact, properly mark his cables.
Michael Yanochik, a Houston attorney representing Luna, told Gizmodo on Wednesday that, obviously, his client’s goal was not to be run out of business. “Why would he not mark his lines?” he said. “He did follow the code. He did everything he needed to do.”
According to the complaint, Luna noticed a service outage soon after Comcast began its construction. When he showed up to repair one of his cables, he found it was severed by one of the Comcast crews. While attempting to reach Comcast about the issue, three more lines were cut.
Yanochik said that during an encounter with a foreman at a Comcast construction site, Luna was told the crew believed the orange markings were from abandoned lines. “They didn’t have a good explanation,” Yanochik said.
Luna’s pleas to Comcast fell on deaf ears, he says. “Within six weeks, the defendants destroyed or damaged the lines servicing every single Telecom customer in Weston Lakes and not one of those lines was ever repaired by the defendants,” the complaint says. By August 1, Luna had no customers left; many of them, he says, now receive their internet services from Comcast instead.
The suit alleges gross negligence on Comcast’s part, accusing the telecom of ignoring its duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid damaging his business. Further, Luna alleges Comcast interfered with the contracts between Luna and his customers, and aided and abetted the contractors who severed his lines. Finally, Luna has accused Comcast of engaging in a “civil conspiracy” to violate Texas law through the destruction of his property.
“Mr. Luna had intended to operate Telecom until he reached retirement age. Instead, faced with the rapid decimation of his business, Mr. Luna and his family were forced into a series of hurried, life-changing decisions,” the complaint says. Luna claims he had to take a job in another city and wasn’t able to service his remaining customers in the other county he serviced.
Moreover, Luna says that he was forced to relocate his family, his wife, Michelle, and three school-age children, to a new home in upstate New York. His wife was forced to resign from a full-time teaching position in Texas and take a substitute teaching position at a fraction of her former salary.