Farming Group Backs EchoStar

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EchoStar Communications Corp.'s proposed merger with DirecTV Inc. --
challenged by some as the creation of a rural monopoly -- got a boost recently
from a rural quarter when the American Farm Bureau Federation announced its
support for the deal.

In a letter sent Dec. 27 to all members of the House and Senate, AFBF
president Bob Stallman said the merger would 'provide great benefits to rural

The $25.8 billion merger, Stallman said, would allow the consolidated company
to expand local TV service to 100 markets -- many of them with rural sectors --
and provide two-way, satellite-delivered Internet access at fast speeds to
millions of rural Americans.

'The proposed merger will help to make the first
broadband-satellite-telecommunications system a reality for many rural areas
starved for high speed Internet access,' Stallman said.

On its Web site, the AFBF describes itself as the country's largest farm
organization, with more than 5 million families in 50 states and Puerto Rico as

The AFBF's support came two weeks after 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

A total of 86 House members -- almost evenly split between Republicans and
Democrats -- raised their objections in a joint letter to Attorney General John
Ashcroft and Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell.

'The rural consumers that currently 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 lawmakers' letter said.

The letter was signed by 43 Democrats, 42 Republicans and one