Rural satellite subscribers can 'rest assured' that the merger between
EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc. won't expose them to unfair
prices, the companies said Thursday.
In a letter to House lawmakers, EchoStar chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen and
DirecTV chairman and CEO Eddy Hartenstein said they have promised to continue
offering a national pricing plan so that rural satellite subscribers do not pay
more than urban subscribers who can switch to cable.
'This means customers in rural America can rest assured that they will
continue to pay the same monthly rate as customers in big cities, where
competition with cable companies is more prevalent,' the executives said.
On Wednesday, about 20 percent of the House of Representatives signed a
letter calling on federal officials to ensure the protection of rural consumers
if EchoStar and DirecTV were allowed to merge.
A total of 86 House members -- almost evenly split between Republicans and
Democrats -- raised their objections to the $25.8 billion merger in a joint
letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft and Federal Communications Commission
chairman Michael Powell.
'The rural consumers who presently have a choice between two fiercely
competitive satellite providers will be subjected to an unchecked monopoly
provider if the merger is approved without appropriate consumer protections,'
the one-page letter said.
In their letter, Ergen and Hartenstein said the merger would expand local TV
service from about 40 markets currently to around 100 after the merger and
provide high-speed Internet service to rural Americans who otherwise would not
receive it from wireline providers.
'Once the government officials closely examine all of the issues surrounding
our proposed merger, we believe it will be approved and rural Americans will
benefit from the decision,' Ergen and Hartenstein said.
Late Wednesday, the National Association of Broadcasters, which is seeking
rejection of the direct-broadcast satellite merger, released a poll showing that
71 percent of 1,000 people asked said the deal should be rejected.
'Consumers are clearly worried that the merger of the nation's only two
satellite-television providers will negatively impact the choices available to
them,' NAB President Edward O. Fritts said in a prepared statement.
'However the antitrust lawyers choose to define the market, an overwhelming
majority of consumers believe the creation of a single satellite-TV service will
leave them with no choice at all,' he added.
The NAB survey also showed results from several hundred people polled in the
district of House Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who has been
close to the NAB over the years but who is keeping an open mind about the
A total of 67 percent of those polled in Tauzin's district said the federal
government should not allow the only two DBS companies to combine.
Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said the poll results were driven by the
questions asked, and not by the merits of the merger.
'Give me $10,000 and the ability to frame the questions, and I will produce a
survey in our district that shows that people support the merger. It's all in
how it's presented,' Johnson said.