Ergen exudes confidence in deal

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EchoStar Chairman Charlie Ergen likes his odds when it comes to getting regulatory approval of his merger with Hughes Electronics, and its crown jewel, DirecTV.

Asked at a Washington press conference Tuesday morning what he thought about analysts giving the deal one in three chance of getting the nod from antitrust authorities, Ergen said: "Are these the same guys who gave us a one in one hundred shot to get a satellite up and launch it on a Chinese rocket? Are the same guys who gave us a one-in-ten shot of doing this deal, back when we did our bear hug in August? I'm very excited that our odds are improving."

Ergen's challenge is to convince Washington authorities that the market includes both satellite and cable, and that he's merely merging the number-three and number-six players. "If the market is satellite-only, then I wouldn't approve this deal," he said.

Ergen's always been an entrepreneur who liked to play the odds, and this time around is no different. Ergen and new partner, DirecTV Chairman and CEO Eddy Hartenstein, on Tuesday toured Capitol Hill, visiting lawmakers to convince them of the merits of their deal.

The execs also met with Susan Eid, mass media and cable advisor to FCC Chairman Michael Powell; Cable Services Bureau Chief Ken Ferree; and two International bureau staffers: David Webink, the bureau's chief economist and Tom Tycz, chief of the satellite division.

While the executives have gained some early support from Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) already has expressed his reservations. And other Senators from rural states also are likely to worry that their constituents will lose a subscription-TV option and may face higher prices.

Even market-minded Tauzin says he would like to see a condition attached to the deal that would institute a national pricing scheme, something to which Ergen says he would agree. - Paige Albiniak

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