Groups knock EchoStar/DirecTV merger

WASHINGTON — Rural advocates and the National Assn. of Broadcasters were among a number of groups gathering Tuesday at the front door of the Justice Dept. to protest the proposed EchoStar/DirecTV merger.

The slogan of the event: “Dish the Merger!”

“It’s a monopoly, plain and simple,” National Consumers League prexy Linda Golodner said. “For the estimated 22 million households that are beyond the reach of cable TV, the merger means take it or leave it — it’s EchoStar or nothing.”

With Washington’s review of the merger in the home stretch, opponents are predicting that the DOJ will turn down the landmark deal, which would unite the country’s two largest satcasters. The Federal Communications Commission also must clear the marriage.

‘Correct decision’

“While our competitors engage in premature speculation about the merger, we have a high degree of confidence in the integrity of the FCC and DOJ process. We are confident that they will make the correct decision for the American consumer,” EchoStar spokesman Mark Lumpkin said.

EchoStar topper Charlie Ergen has assured Washington that the merged conglom would offer a national pricing plan to rural customers with no access to cable.

Some lawmakers aren’t convinced, including Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), who was among Wednesday’s 100 or so protesters.

“If this merger is allowed, one company will dominate digital services in rural America. With lack of choice comes declining customer service, higher prices, inferior programming and stifled innovation,” Cannon said.

Lumpkin said such concerns are unfounded. In addition to a national pricing plan, EchoStar has promised to carry local broadcast signals.

Murdoch waits

Waiting patiently in the wings is media titan Rupert Murdoch, who lost out on his bid to acquire DirecTV. Should the EchoStar/DirecTV deal be scuttled, he could have another go.

The DOJ and FCC are expected to render their decisions on the merger this fall. Justice’s could come as early as this month.

Other groups attending the protest included the Communications Workers of America, the Latino Coalition, the American Cable Assn., the American Antitrust Institute, the National Grange and the National Cooperative Business Assn.

Repping NAB at the rally was veepee Jim May.

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