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Dept. of Justice sues AT&T / DirecTV for allegedly blocking SportsNet LA

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MLB: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The three-year battle to make the Dodgers’ television network available to the majority of Los Angeles took a turn on Wednesday, with the United States Department of Justice filing suit in federal court against AT&T, which owns DirecTV, alleging collusion to keep SportsNet LA off the air.

The Associated Press has more:

The complaint says the companies made the agreements to prevent competitors from offering the channel to lure customers. Dodger fans were bitter they could only watch games through Time Warner Cable - now owned by Charter - the past three seasons.

The government says DirecTV was the ringleader because it was the only company that unlawfully talked to multiple rivals, and says 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.

It is unclear whether this lawsuit will lead to SportsNet LA showing up on other carriers — AT&T, DirecTV, Verizon, et al — but at the very least is some form of action, which is a change from the last three seasons, when well over half of the Los Angeles area cannot watch Dodgers games.

Perhaps getting the Dodgers on TV will be a side benefit of the various telecommunications mergers, and the subsequent scrutiny that follows. Public interest group Public Knowledge issued a statement about the lawsuit:

We're glad to see strong antitrust enforcement from the Department of Justice. The allegations in this complaint demonstrate how difficult is can be for law enforcement to monitor the behavior of large companies.

AT&T, which acquired with DirecTV in 2015, responded to the lawsuit through attorney David McAfee:

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. 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. We look forward to presenting these facts in court.

Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten issued a statement as well.

“The allegations against DirecTV in today’s complaint by the U.S. Justice Department are shocking but not surprising,” Kasten said. “We hope today’s action leads to all Dodger fans finally being able to view all Dodger games everywhere in the market.”