AT&T has sued Max Retrans, a consultant that works with TV stations negotiating with distributors, claiming it used confidential data to get higher fees for its clients.
In U.S. Court in St. Louis, AT&T said it is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, including inflated retransmission consent fees, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and court costs.
Max Retrans is headed by former Nexstar COO Duane Lammers. AT&T is currently locked in a retransmission consent battle with Nexstar, but Nexstar is not working with Max Retrans. Nexstar stations have been blacked out on AT&T's DirecTV, DirecTV Now and Uverse for a week.
Lammers did not respond to requests for comment, but Armstrong Williams, owner of station owner Howard Stirk Holdings, said the suit aimed “to intimidate broadcasters and their agents from negotiating fair and market-based retransmission rates.”
In the suit, AT&T said Max Retrans signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2016 that called for information about one of its station clients not to be used in negotiation for other stations and that Max Retrans has breached that agreement.
The name of the station groups represented by Max Retrans appear to have been redacted from the public copy of the lawsuit.
Last month, AT&T sued several station owners including Deerfield Media, MPS Media, GoCom Media of Illinois, Howard Stirk Holdings, Mercury Broadcasting Co., Second Generation of Iowa, and Waitt Broadcasting for failing to negotiate in good faith.
Those stations are also blacked out due to retransmission consent fee disputes. Many were formerly owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and have reportedly been working with Max Retrans.
“AT&T has been harmed and will continue to be harmed by Max Retrans’ actual and threatened misappropriation of trade secrets, which has contributed to unreasonable delays with the retransmission consent negotiations resulting in [redacted] and AT&T losing subscribers,” according to the suit.
“AT&T will also be harmed by Max Retrans’ misappropriation of trade secrets by paying higher retransmission consent fees,” it said.
Williams said AT&T has been refusing to fairly negotiate retransmission agreements with broadcasters and that members of Congress have been putting the spotlight on the damage AT&T is doing to local viewers.
He said AT&T’s actions as a gatekeeper limit viewer choice and impact diversity by limiting access to one of the few Black-owned TV stations in the nation.
“AT&T is the poster child for the highly concentrated pay-TV industry,” Williams said. “AT&T should stop throwing tantrums and trying to bully broadcasters and their agents, like Max Retrans, and instead return to the negotiating table and behave like adults.”