As the Federal Communications Commission prepares to vote on the DirecTV-Liberty Media merger, the National Association of Broadcasters asked it to make DirecTV's delivery of "true" local-into-local TV service in all 210 TV markets a condition of the deal.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin indicated that DirecTV's proposal of a hybrid satellite/over-the-air system meets the requirements of delivering local TV stations as part of the satellite service -- a point he made during a Hill hearing last week.
When the FCC approved News Corp.'s purchase of DirecTV in 2003, the company promised to deliver a "seamless, integrated local-channel package" to all 210 markets by 2008 -- a commitment Martin said will carry over to his proposed approval of the Liberty-DirecTV deal.
DirecTV said the hybrid system fills the bill and Martin has said that he thinks so, too. So far, DirecTV is delivering local TV signals in 144 markets, 66 shy of the mark, and some on Capitol Hill are concerned that however "seamless service" is defined, the company will be hard-pressed to meet the deadline anyway.
In a letter to the FCC Tuesday, the NAB said that unless DirecTV is delivering local-into-local "satellite" service in all 210 markets by the end of 2008, it won't have lived up to its end of the bargain.
"News Corp.’s promise will be wholly empty if the commission does not hold DirecTV to the commitment of true local-into-local ‘DBS [direct-broadcast satellite]’ service, as Congress, the commission and the public understood it to be at the time," NAB senior vice president and general counsel Jane Mago wrote, "and not the revisionist contradiction of that promise that DirecTV now advances.”
She continued, "Clearly, News Corp. will have received the benefit of its bargain and a substantial return on its investment in four years. The public, especially America’s rural public, should now receive the benefits of competition and of local-into-local satellite delivered service that DirecTV promised to it. Only the commission is in a position to ensure that the American public receives those promised benefits."
Martin had told reporters that he was scheduling a vote to approve the merger at the FCC's Feb. 26 meeting, but that meeting was moved to Feb. 25 and, according to sources, it will not include any agenda items but simply be an opportunity to hear from broadband-network-management experts -- the hearing is being held at Harvard Law School in Boston, Martin's alma mater.
This means that the deal will likely be voted out by the commissioners on circulation -- the chairman circulates the order and they vote on it without meeting.