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AT&T Seeks to Keep Al Jazeera Contract Terms Confidential

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- AT&T Inc. should be able to keep private information about its dispute with Al Jazeera over a decision to drop the Qatar-based broadcaster’s new U.S. channel, a lawyer for the top seller of broadband Web service said.

Delaware Chancery Court Judge Sam Glasscock reserved his decision on the matter today after Robert Walters, representing AT&T, said terms of an agreement for Al Jazeera’s access to AT&T’s U-verse pay-TV service are proprietary and shouldn’t be made public so competitors can access them.

Releasing the information “could cost the carrier a lot of money,” Walters said at a hearing in Dover.

Glasscock took the sealing issue under advisement and told Al Jazeera lawyers to reconsider their redactions. Glasscock said he “struggled to see” how some of the blacked out material should be shielded from the public’s view.

“It’s interesting that the parties came to a public court to address issues they say are too sensitive to be revealed,” he said.

Bloomberg News, the Associated Press and other media outlets have challenged AT&T’s decision to black out contract information in court filings tied to Al Jazeera’s lawsuit.

Andrew Deutsch, a lawyer for Al Jazeera, agreed with AT&T that key terms such as pricing shouldn’t be made public, telling Glasscock that, “A network carrier doesn’t want other carriers to know” proprietary contract terms.

U-Verse Dispute

AT&T’s U-verse pay-TV service said Aug. 19 it wouldn’t carry Al Jazeera America because of disputes over the agreement between the two broadcasters. U-verse began in 2006 and has 5 million video customers in states such as Texas and California. The network, controlled by the Qatari royal family, paid $500 million for Al Gore’s money-losing Current TV in January and rebranded it.

AT&T’s push to keep all information about the agreement’s terms confidential is excessive and improperly bars public access to court filings, Andre Bouchard, a lawyer for Bloomberg News, told Glasscock today.

He said the companies engaged in “gross over-redactions” of non-sensitive material in their court filings, and have made it impossible for the public to fathom “the real grist of the dispute.”

Current TV

Buying Current TV gave Al Jazeera America access to about 43 million U.S. homes, less than half of the nation’s pay-TV homes. The Qatari company also has deals with Comcast Corp., DirecTV and Dish Network Corp. for BeIN Sport, a group of channels it owns in France, the U.S. and Canada that have rights to European soccer leagues.

U-verse is the second TV provider to drop Al Jazeera’s channel since it acquired Current TV. Time Warner Cable, which has 12 million customers, dropped the channel from its lineup in January.

Al Jazeera officials contend they were in “full compliance” with the agreement covering AT&T’s broadcasting of the Current TV channel and “AT&T’s excuse for terminating is a bad-faith pretext,” according to court filings.

AT&T contends in court papers that it has “unique” contracts with networks on U-verse that contain competitive information related to pricing and termination rights.

The case is Al Jazeera LLC v. AT&T Services Inc., 8823, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware at jfeeley@bloomberg.net; Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware at pmilford@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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