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Rural senators: Scrutinize EchoStar merger - Broadcasting & Cable

Rural senators: Scrutinize EchoStar merger

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A group of 11 senators representing rural areas asked the Department of
Justice and the Federal Communications Commission to carefully consider EchoStar
Communications Corp.'s proposed merger with Hughes Electronics and its
subsidiary, DirecTV Inc.

"The rural customers who presently have a choice between two very competitive
satellite providers could be subjected to monopolistic practices if the merger
is approved," wrote Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Charles Grassley (D-Iowa),
Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Ron Wyden
(D-Ore.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.),
Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

The senators want the two agencies to consider at least attaching strong
conditions to any merger approval, including "consumer safeguards regarding
price, service quality and access to vital communications services in rural
America."

The senators are concerned the national pricing plan suggested by EchoStar to
make sure rural subscribers are paying the same price for service as urban
subscribers will "disenfranchise" rural customers.

They also say they are concerned about EchoStar's pledge to serve all 210 TV
markets with local-TV signals "in light of the applicants' legal efforts to
overturn the law requiring carriage of all local channels in a market."

EchoStar is appealing at the Supreme Court a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling
that satellite-TV companies are obligated to carry all local TV stations in all
markets they choose to serve.

"Accordingly, we urge the Department of Justice and
Federal Communications Commission to scrutinize this proposed merger to ensure
that millions of rural consumers do not suffer the consequences of higher
prices, fewer choices and reduced services," the senators
wrote.

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