Antitrust action

Primestar, Justice Dept. seek deadline delay

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department signaled a slight warming to proposals by Primestar to find a way around antitrust objections to its purchase of a DBS license currently controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

The Justice Department signed a joint filing with Primestar asking a federal judge for a two-week delay for several pre-trial deadlines in the lawsuit brought against Primestar by the department. The lawsuit seeks to block the transfer of a DBS license to Primestar from a failed entity jointly owned by News Corp. and MCI.

Blocking the deal

Justice Department officials sought to block the deal because they did not want the last remaining DBS license to be controlled by Primestar’s five cable industry owners — TCI Satellite Entertainment, Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and MediaOne. Since Justice filed its lawsuit, Primestar has been scrambling to reduce or eliminate the amount of cable company ownership in the deal before the case comes to trial Feb. 1.

Justice officials gave the first sign they were receptive to Primestar’s proposals in the filing made last week. “The parties have undertaken serious negotiations directed toward a possible set of transactions and a related consent decree that would resolve this matter without further proceedings,” states a filing made jointly by lawyers for Primestar and Justice.

Primestar has floated several proposals for reaching a settlement including a sale of the cable partners’ joint ownership to TCI-controlled United Video Satellite Group. Public interest advocates said Monday that they are wary of any deal that continues TCI influence on Primestar — even if the other cable companies are bought out.

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