EchoStar, DirecTV Dodging FCC Hearing

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Merger hopefuls EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc. parent Hughes Electronics Corp., are attempting to skirt a protracted hearing before an administrative law judge at the Federal Communications Commission.

In a recent filing, the companies laid out arguments for why the hearing should not go forward, chief among them their view that the direct-broadcast satellite merger was unfairly held to a higher standard than the recently approved cable merger between AT&T Broadband and Comcast Corp.

The Nov. 18 filing was the first move to bypass the ALJ and proceedings that can take many months to conclude. The companies are seeking fast action from the FCC because Hughes can back out of the deal as early as Jan. 6, under one scenario.

EchoStar and DirecTV told the commission they plan to make another filing "soon" that contains new merger terms. An FCC source said the DBS firms have until Nov. 27 to file their remedial merger proposal.

EchoStar and DirecTV are fighting on two fronts to save the merger. In addition to legal proceedings at the FCC, the companies are also contesting in U.S. District Court the Department of Justice's decision last month to challenge the merger on antitrust grounds.

U.S. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle refused to expedite the case as requested by the DBS firms.