AT&T: Justice Dept. lawsuit against DirecTV based on ‘industry chatter,’ should be rejected

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AT&T, which now owns DirecTV, urged a federal judge to reject the Justice Department’s lawsuit against its DirecTV business, arguing that the lawsuit relies on “only a handful of episodic, separate contacts” comprising nothing more than “industry chatter.”

The DoJ’s claims are based on “nothing more than industry chatter about high-visibility topics, and cannot be sufficient to plausibly allege an ongoing reciprocal agreement to share competitively sensitive information,” AT&T said in its filing, according to several reports on the case.

Specifically, according to Bloomberg BNA, AT&T said that Judge Michael Fitzgerald should shelve the antitrust charges by the Department of Justice. The telco said the government’s lawsuit doesn’t “allege any traditional theory of antitrust liability” and is based on “narrow and generalized allegations of ‘information sharing.’”

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“Never before has a court found an antitrust violation for the mere sharing of non-price information of the type alleged here, especially when based on such threadbare allegations of an agreement,” continued AT&T in its recent filing, arguing that none of the conversations at issue in the case involved exchanging competitive price information.

In a blockbuster lawsuit filed late last year, the U.S. Justice Department accused AT&T’s DirecTV unit of orchestrating an illegal campaign to block wide carriage of regional sports network SportsNet LA, home of the L.A. Dodgers.

Time Warner Cable launched SportsNet LA on the back of a 25-year, $8.35 billion licensing deal with the Dodgers in early 2014. To date, the Southern California region’s No. 2 pay-TV operator, DirecTV, has refused carriage of the channel. No other pay-TV operator of influence in the region, outside TWC (now operating under Charter’s Spectrum brand) has signed on, either. The DoJ’s lawsuit accuses DirecTV of influencing other pay-TV companies to avoid signing onto the channel as well.

The lawsuit comes at a critical time for AT&T. Not only is the company working to obtain federal approvals to purchase media giant Time Warner for $85.4 billion, the company is also working to wend its way through President-elect Trump’s incoming administration. Along those lines, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was among the AT&T executives who arrived at Trump Tower this week for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump—though reports issued following the meeting said the two didn’t discuss AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner.

Trump has nominated Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department.

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