California Yellow Pages Firm Sues Phone Giant AT&T

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File photo of a courtroom. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

File photo of a courtroom. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A California Yellow Pages company filed a lawsuit against AT&T on Wednesday in a dispute over phone book advertising.

The lawsuit filed by Fresno-based Valley Yellow Pages says a rival phone book run by AT&T is offering illegal, secret discounts to advertisers. The lawsuit seeks an end to the alleged practice and unspecified damages.

Ralph Alldredge, an attorney for Valley Yellow Pages, said the illegal advertising incentive goes back to 2012, when AT&T Inc. partnered with Cerberus Capital Management LP to publish the phone directory. The laws Alldredge accuses AT&T of breaking stem from the 1930s and were written to keep large national companies from anticompetitive and fraudulent behavior used to crush smaller businesses.

“They’ve kind of been forgotten,” he said of the old laws. “But their time has come again because of the economic conditions.”

An AT&T spokesman and the company’s attorneys did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the suit.

Valley Yellow Pages distributes phone books throughout much of California and competes directly with AT&T’s directory. Launched in 1985 by three former Pacific Bell executives, Valley Yellow Pages is the largest independent publisher of Yellow Pages directories in Central and Northern California, circulating from Bakersfield north to the Oregon border.

The lawsuit filed in the Fresno County Superior Court accuses AT&T of offering select advertisers prices below those listed on its rate cards and asking those customers to keep quiet. The Dallas-based phone giant is also accused in court papers of luring customers away from the smaller competitor by marking a substantial portion of advertising space below cost.

Alldredge has had success before making similar arguments, winning a $20 million judgment in a 2008 jury trial on behalf of a chain of alternative newspapers.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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