FCC restarts s’caster merger clock

Review to be completed by November

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday restarted the clock on its review of the EchoStar/DirecTV merger, saying the satcasters had followed through and submitted the needed documentation on the deal.

The clock had been frozen for nearly five months at day 78, meaning the FCC’s 180-day review of the marriage would already have been complete but for the lengthy delay.

FCC media bureau chief W. Kenneth Ferree notified the two satcasters that the clock has been restarted, with the review to be completed by early November. He said there had been “sufficient response” to FCC requests.

“We are glad that the process is moving forward,” EchoStar spokesman Mark Lumpkin said. “We’ve been submitting documents and information to the FCC on an ongoing basis and will continue to do so.”

The deal, valued at $28 billion when first announced, will combine the country’s two largest satcasters and has sparked widespread debate. In addition to the FCC, union must be cleared by antitrust toppers at the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

In particular, Capitol Hill lawmakers say they are concerned that the proposed merger would pose a monopoly in rural areas where there is no access to cable. EchoStar topper Charlie Ergen has repeatedly pledged to offer a national pricing plan in such regions.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative have strenuously fought the deal, and didn’t want the FCC to restart the clock.

Ferree, however, said in his letter that EchoStar and DirecTV had cleared up virtually all concerns in terms of documentation needed by regulators to dissect the ramifications of the merger.

“Since the applicants have substantially complied with the request, we restart our 180-day merger review clock,” Ferree wrote.

It isn’t uncommon for the FCC to stop the review clock. Indeed, the clock was stopped several times during the agency’s yearlong review of the AOL Time Warner marriage.

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