EchoStar topper calls bird deal a slam-dunk

Ergen: Feds won't block pay-TV merger

EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen said Tuesday he’s confident regulators at the FCC and the Dept. of Justice will approve his merger with rival DirecTV, possibly in the fall.

“We’ve supplied all the information they requested — tens of thousands of documents” from both companies, he said during a satellite conference in Gotham. “Regulators will take the time to look at all the facts and talk to everyone in the industry,” he said, hoping they’ll conclude the two satcasters are only a fraction of the overall pay-TV biz.

Together, the companies would have economy of scale to offer consumers a range of services, including high-speed Internet, video on demand and local stations in more markets — more effectively competing with cable.

EchoStar stock praised

A panel of Wall Street analysts and fund managers were split on whether or not the deal would pass muster, but still picked fast-growing EchoStar as their favorite stock among all cable and satellite companies.

DirecTV topper Eddy Hartenstein said his group is in better shape operationally now than it was back when it inked the merger in October. That was after DirecTV parent Hughes had negotiated with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for nearly two years.

“It was never a deal with News Corp., but with Sky Global, which had a number of assets that had full or partial ownership by News Corp.,” he said. “Things change, things are different now then they were six months ago and two years ago,” he said.

Face-off with Pagan

The would-be partners faced off with Mark Pagan, chairman of Pegasus Communications, a small satcaster with about 1 million subscribers, and Bob Phillips, CEO of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NTRC).

Pagan noted that Pegasus already offers broadband service and EchoStar doesn’t. “And you’re going to go broke,” Ergen said. “It doesn’t make sense to put money where you don’t have a return. We have to do it together. I’m not going to commit financial suicide just to tell people we’re offering broadband.”