The Federal Communications Commission Tuesday ordered EchoStar Communications
Corp. and General Motors Corp. to provide financial data that will help the
agency review the pending merger of EchoStar and DirecTV Inc.
The deal would combine the country's two satellite-TV companies into one
Included in the FCC's request are EchoStar's credit agreement for financing
the merger, details of Vivendi Universal S.A.'s investment in EchoStar,
exclusive distribution relationships with consumer-equipment retailers and
installers, detailed descriptions of video-programming services, comparisons of
EchoStar and DirecTV programming lineups, subscriber totals, geographic data and
price lists for both DBS providers' services.
Scrutiny of the merger is increasing dramatically.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee,
told the Department of Justice -- which is also reviewing the deal -- to
carefully scrutinize the $26.8 billion agreement.
'There appears to be a substantial risk that the proffered benefits to
competition may be ephemeral,' Hatch wrote. 'I am concerned that absent an
expedited investigation of and challenge to this proposed merger, competition
and consumers could be seriously harmed.'
Hatch formerly was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has
authority over antitrust mergers. Now he is that panel's ranking member.
EchoStar responded that it also wants the DOJ to examine the merger
expeditiously and rigorously.
'EchoStar has requested meetings with Sen. Hatch, and we hope he and his
staff find time to meet with us so we can explain the numerous benefits of the
merger, such as providing his constituents in the entire state of Utah, as well
as the nation, competitive rates to cable and a faster introduction of
high-speed Internet via satellite,' EchoStar spokesman Marc Lumpkin said.
EchoStar wants to buy Hughes Electronics Corp. and merge its operations with
Hughes subsidiary DirecTV, EchoStar's No. 1 competitor.
Many media companies, consumer groups, think tanks and just plain folk
weighed in on the deal Monday, the deadline for public comment on the
Lining up against: the National Association of Broadcasters, rural satellite
carriers, would-be rival Northpoint Technology Ltd., the Writers Guild of
America and the trade group for small cable operators.
Supporting the deal were Vivendi, the Progress and Freedom Foundation,
Americans for Tax Freedom, Thomson Multimedia and Circuit City Stores Inc.
Seeking strong conditions on the deal were the Consumers Union, which
demanded that EchoStar limit rural customers' prices by charging a uniform
single price nationwide; the Association of Public Television Stations, which
wants the company to be forced to live up to its promise to carry more local
channels; and Paxson Communications Corp., which insisted that EchoStar be order
to carry local stations in rural markets.