FCC Seeks Retrans Data from News Corp.

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The Federal Communications Commission is seeking additional information from News Corp. regarding its possible efforts to strike cable- and satellite-carriage deals for independent Fox affiliates.

The latest request came in connection with News Corp.'s application before the FCC to take operational control of DirecTV Inc. in a $6.6 billion deal that has raised warning signs for several cable companies.

In an Oct. 31 letter, the FCC asked News Corp. to respond to a series of questions, including whether the company retains the right to negotiate cable- and direct-broadcast-satellite-carriage deals on behalf of nonowned Fox affiliates and whether the company has actually negotiated for affiliates. If it has done the bargaining, News Corp. was asked to produce copies of each agreement.

News Corp. was also asked whether it "ever solicited or required" independent Fox affiliates to demand that cable operators or DBS providers carry News Corp. cable networks as barter for access to the TV signals. If such deals exist, the FCC asked to see details, including whether News Corp. compensated the local stations for seeking carriage of the cable networks.

The FCC has an informal 180-day period to review mergers. The agency suspended the News Corp.-DirecTV merger clock Oct. 10, when it made a second information request to News Corp. and DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics Corp.

The agency appears to be responding to cable-industry concerns that News Corp., owner of 35 local Fox TV stations, would use control of DirecTV to require cable companies to pay more for access to Fox broadcasting and cable programming.

Cable operators that lost access to the programming because they refused to pay higher fees insisted that News Corp. would promote that programming on DirecTV to lure cable subscribers and pressure cable companies.

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