Satcasters’ merger trial set for 2003

Court date skedded for February or March

It’s official: EchoStar and DirecTV are going to trial to argue that Washington antitrust watchdogs were wrong in denying their bid to merge and become the country’s largest satcaster.

A federal judge in Washington on Wednesday set the trial for next February or March. The previous day, the satcasters had filed a motion stating for the record that they will indeed fight for their proposed marriage.

The court, however, refused to expedite the process and set the trial for late November or December.

News of the pending trial came less than a week after the Justice Dept. and attorneys general from 23 states rejected the EchoStar/DirecTV marriage, which would have combined the country’s two largest satcasters.

Antitrust attorneys at the DOJ said the merger would be anti-competitive by leaving only one pay TV provider in rural areas with no access to cable.

The Federal Communications Commission had already rejected the union, saying the deal didn’t serve the public interest.

EchoStar spokesman Marc Lumpkin said the company was pleased that U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle acted so quickly in skedding a trial.

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