The U.S. Department of Justice sued DirecTV and AT&T Inc. Wednesday for allegedly coordinating "unlawful information exchanges" that have "deprived" many Southern Californians from watching the last three seasons of Dodgers games, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
The suit alleges that DirecTV acted as a "ringleader" of the unlawful information exchanges between the company and three competitors Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and AT&T -- which did not yet own DirecTV at the time -- during negotiations to carry the SportsNet LA channel, according to the Department of Justice.
The channel "holds the exclusive rights to telecast almost all live Dodgers games in the Los Angeles Area," the Department of Justice wrote in a statement. The Dodger-owned station is broadcast exclusively on Time Warner Cable.
"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 in a statement.
"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."
In a statement released to the Los Angeles Times, David AcAtee, AT&T general counsel said, "We respect the [Justice Department's] important role in protecting consumers, but in this case, which occurred before AT&T's acquisition of DIRECTV, we see the facts differently."
"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 L.A. Dodgers baseball. We make our carriage decisions independently, legally and only after thorough negotiations with the content owner. We look forward to presenting these facts in court," AcAtee said in the statement.
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, the president and CEO of the Dodgers, said in a statement that the allegations against DirecTV 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 in the statement.
Congresswoman Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, who has made several efforts to end the Dodgers blackout, released a statement Wednesday regarding the lawsuit.
"I have been working all year to make sure that the fans in Los Angeles can watch their beloved Dodgers on TV," Hahn said in the statement. "Now to hear that AT&T may have purposefully been prolonging this blackout is troubling to me and all the Dodger fans who were hoping for a resolution. I am glad that the Department of Justice is looking into these allegations and I am hopeful that by next season we can clear a path to getting the Dodgers back on television."