Justice Department sues DirecTV, AT&T over blackout of Dodgers channel

The U.S. Department of Justice sued DirecTV Wednesday, alleging it orchestrated a campaign with its competitors that has led to the widespread unavailability of SportsNet LA, which broadcasts Los Angeles Dodgers games.

"As the complaint explains, Dodgers fans were denied a fair competitive process when DirecTV orchestrated a series of information exchanges with direct competitors that ultimately made consumers less likely to be able to
watch their hometown team,'' Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sallet of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division said. "Competition, not collusion, best serves consumers and that is especially true when, as with pay-television providers, consumers have only a handful of choices in the marketplace.''

The complaint also names DirecTV's parent company, AT&T. David McAtee, AT&T's general counsel, disputed the allegations in the lawsuit.

"We respect the DOJ's important role in protecting consumers, but in this case, which occurred before AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV, we see the facts differently,'' McAtee said. "The reason why no other major TV provider
chose to carry this content was that no one wanted to force all of their customers to pay the inflated prices that Time Warner Cable was demanding for a channel devoted solely to LA Dodgers baseball.

"We make our carriage decisions independently, legally and only after thorough negotiations with the content owner,'' he said. "We look forward to presenting these facts in court.''

Federal authorities allege that DirecTV orchestrated an information- sharing campaign with Cox Communications, Charter Communications and AT&T -- which did not yet own DirecTV at the time -- to ensure that SportsNet LA would not be carried by the providers. The Dodger-owned station is broadcast exclusively on Time Warner Cable.

Negotiations between Time Warner and other carriers have stalled for years, frustrating thousands of Dodger fans who have been unable to watch the team's games. Federal authorities say that frustration was the offshoot of DirecTV's campaign of collusion, which was aimed at improving the companies' bargaining leverage with Time Warner over the cost of carrying the channel.

Stan Kasten, president/CEO of the Dodgers, said the allegations in the lawsuit "are shocking but not surprising.''

"We hope today's action leads to all Dodger fans finally being able to view all Dodger games everywhere in the market,'' he said.

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