Concentrated look

Solons set hearings on cablers, Murdoch

WASHINGTON — The Senate’s antitrust subcommittee is planning to move forward with a hearing April 1 that will take a look at concentration in the cable business, including Rupert Murdoch’s deal to control the Dodgers.

Senate staffers said Murdoch’s ownership of the Dodgers, along with KTTV Los Angeles and the Fox Sports West network, raises issues that they would like to examine at the hearing. Senate staffers would like to book an appearance by the Fox topper, but News Corp.’s Washington veep Peggy Binzel said Monday that an invitation has not been issued. “There has been no indication that they are going to” invite Murdoch to testify, said Binzel.

Binzel noted that several companies currently own TV stations and sports teams, including Time Warner, which owns WTBS Atlanta and the Atlanta Braves. “We just happen to be the latest,” said Binzel.

Murdoch “not only owns a TV network but also 20 regional sports channels,” said Consumer Union’s Gene Kimmelman. “I think it is very appropriate to look at the potential competitive effects of all this.”

In addition, the antitrust subcommittee wants to take a look at the cable industry’s several-year-old trend of clustering cable systems in a market. For instance, Time Warner has purchased most of the cable systems in the New York area, and Cablevision Systems controls most of the cable systems on Long Island.

While cablers say the clustering provides economic efficiencies that could lead to competition with the telephone industry, Senate staffers are concerned that the practice could raise anticompetitive issues.

The subcommittee is not expected to delve deeply into Murdoch’s proposal to sell the satcasting license he jointly owns with MCI to the cabler-controlled Primestar Partners. That deal is getting a close look at the Justice Dept. and the FCC, which have raised questions about cablers controlling a major satcasting license.

Sources said the subcommittee’s chairman Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) is primarily interested in the potential for anticompetitive behavior in the sports arena.

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