Dept. moving to bring investigation to conclusion, org chief sez

WASHINGTON — Justice Dept. antitrust chief Charles James said Thursday that there is no single matter gobbling up more resources and attention than the hotly debated EchoStar/DirecTV merger.

The comments came during testimony before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee concerned with ongoing consolidation in the entertainment and media biz.

The two big deals presently being reviewed by the DOJ and the Federal Communications Commission are the EchoStar/DirecTV satcasting union and the AT&T/Comcast cable hookup.

James assured the lawmakers that both are receiving due review. He said the DOJ had requested and received more paperwork from EchoStar and DirecTV as late as last week.

“We are moving to bring this investigation to a prompt conclusion,” James said. “We are very serious about this transaction.”

Across Washington, the prospect of the country’s two largest satcasters being allowed to merge has caused alarm. Of the various media deals proposed in recent years, EchoStar/DirecTV may be the one that gets held up because of antitrust concerns.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, said he was surprised by this week’s news that AT&T/Comcast had cleared the DOJ by default.

“How can such a giant merger be allowed to go by without a whisper of concern? Certainly this deal, too, poses some antitrust concerns.”

On Tuesday, AT&T and Comcast announced that the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvement Act had expired with no requests by Justice for additional information. Hence, the act therefore “no longer prohibits the parties from closing the proposed transaction,” companies said.

James said review of the AT&T/Comcast deal is not over, contrary to what the companies said. “Lest there be any confusion, the investigation is ongoing.”

Kohl and Rep. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), ranking Democrat on the Antitrust Subcommittee, announced they will hold a hearing on media and entertainment consolidation early next year.

“Consolidation of the entertainment, media and news industries raises special concerns, because we are talking about the marketplace of ideas,” Kohl said.

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