Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday it has settled a lawsuit that accused AT&T’s DirectTV unit of orchestrating a backroom deal with competitors to not carry the sole channel that broadcasts Dodgers baseball in Los Angeles.
The deal, while a seeming victory for deprived Dodger fans, will not necessarily lead to them seeing their team on TV more this season.
The suit claimed DirecTV swapped information with Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and AT&T — before it acquired DirecTV — during negotiations to carry the SportsNet LA, the network owned by the Dodgers.
Officials said the settlement will ensure that the companies will no longer make agreements to prevent competitors from offering the channel to lure customers. “We are pleased to have resolved this matter to the satisfaction of all parties,” AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook said Thursday.
Dodger fans were bitter they could only watch games through Time Warner Cable — now owned by Charter — the past three seasons. But that bitterness may continue. The government did not order AT&T to start carrying SportsNet LA, it only sought to prevent such dealing in the future.
The settlement also requires the companies to monitor certain communications their programming executives have with their rivals, and to implement antitrust training and compliance programs.
“When competitors email, text, or otherwise share confidential and strategically sensitive information with each other to avoid competing, consumers lose,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said in a statement.
The government said DirecTV was the ringleader because it was the only company that unlawfully talked to multiple rivals, and said that DirecTV executives acknowledged that the satellite-TV company would be in a stronger position if competing TV providers also did not carry the Dodgers channel.
David McAtee, the general counsel for AT&T, which bought DirecTV in July 2015, said in November that cable and satellite TV providers chose not to carry the channel because the companies did not want to pass inflated prices on to customers for a channel devoted only to the Dodgers.