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Al Jazeera America Is Already in a Carriage Dispute With AT&T

Network announces lawsuit after seven hours on the air

The new Al Jazeera America television broadcast studio. Photo: Stan Honda

That was quick: even before Al Jazeera America made it to the airwaves on Tuesday, it was already in the middle of its first carriage dispute. On its first day of service, the network filed a lawsuit against AT&T, which dropped AJAM from its U-Verse service on Monday at 11:59. The network went live at 3 p.m. yesterday on the rest of its affiliates. As of Friday, Al Jazeera America was available in 48 million households; U-Verse constituted about 5 million of those.

“Al Jazeera America made a decision to seek judicial intervention in its dispute with AT&T," an AJAM representative said in a written statement. "Unfortunately AT&T's decision to unilaterally delete Al Jazeera America presented us with circumstances that were untenable—an affiliate that has willfully and knowingly breached its contractual obligations. Accordingly, we had no choice but to take this action and to enforce Al Jazeera America's rights under its agreement with AT&T—and to compel AT&T to do the right thing."

“We dropped the Current TV channel, and will not carry Al Jazeera America, on U-verse due to contract disputes," a spokesman said in an earlier report. "We could not reach an agreement with the owner that we believed provided value for our customers and our business.”

Al Jazeera has had a few bumps along the way, notably the problem of advertisers staying away in droves. Still, it's a network that has attracted high-wattage talent from around the cable news universe, and deep pockets guarantee it'll be on the air until its owners say so, and not before. But its first major battle is for carriage, and a dispute this entrenched so early in its history is a considerable setback.

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