Prime Suit Proceeds

A U.S. District Court judge last week said Prime Communications can move forward with its $20 million lawsuit against AT&T Broadband that accuses the cable-television giant of monopolization and unfair trade practices.

Prime filed the suit some weeks ago in U.S. District Court in Boston, and on Dec. 5, a judge at a preliminary hearing cleared the way for a jury trial to begin in March 2002.

In court papers, Prime alleges AT&T rejects paid advertising that Prime has attempted to place on stations carried by the cable system. AT&T is the dominant cable service in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

Prime, a Wakefield, Mass., advertising and media shop, contends in the suit that AT&T is retaliating against it because the agency refused to sell its PrimeIQ Web-based lead management tool to AT&T earlier this year. The product competes against a similar device of AT&T’s, called Vehix.

“As this case continues, we look forward to the opportunity to prove that the claims alleged by Prime Communications … are entirely without merit,” AT&T said in a statement. “AT&T Broadband has neither violated federal anti-trust laws, nor has it engaged in any anti-competitive activities.” At press time, AT&T had not yet filed a response in court.

The suit alleges that when Prime declined the $1-2 million offer from AT&T for PrimeIQ, AT&T abruptly terminated their 15-year relationship. Prime alleges that along with banning the company from purchasing ads on the cable system, AT&T intends to have its own advertising division handle Prime’s clients—mainly local car dealerships—thereby reducing competition in the marketplace.