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Pol group challenges bird wedding

Legislators warn deal will diminish competish

Expressing concerns over market dominance and reduced exposure for Hispanic programming, a group of nine lawmakers is voicing opposition to a planned merger of satcasters EchoStar and DirecTV in letters to two key regulatory solons.

But EchoStar noted that a separate group of congressional leaders, including Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio), penned similar letters last week in support of the deal.

The political posturing highlighted the uncertain future of the merger, which would unite the two main players in satellite TV into a single behemoth with 17 million subscribers.

Diversity issue

The most recent missives, sent to Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft, argue that the proposed tie-up “raises issues regarding programming diversity, pricing and the expansion of local television service.”

The legislators, who include Reps. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Mary Bono (R-Calif.) and Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), said they’re worried that the deal will relegate programming aimed at Hispanics and other minorities to the outer reaches of the broadcasting spectrum.

They also warned that the merger would quell constructive competition between the two companies to offer local programming in their markets, thus reducing the chance that some customers would receive local content via satellite.

From across the aisle

The bipartisan group of representatives, several of whose constituencies include large minority populations, also cited a lack of minority representation in EchoStar’s executive suite.

But in a letter to Ashcroft and Powell dated July 25, the pro-merger camp countered that the deal would “enable the combined entity to provide greater programming options, more local channels and high-speed Internet access at a competitive price to even the remotest areas of the United States.”

The lawmakers added that EchoStar’s promise to stick to a uniform national pricing plan will allow rural residents — who make up a large portion of Hobson’s and Boucher’s constituencies — to take advantage of low rates created by fierce competition with cable TV providers in urban areas.

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