Rural House Bloc Protests DBS Merger


About 20 percent of the House of Representatives signed a letter Wednesday
calling on federal officials to ensure the protection of rural consumers if
EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc. are allowed to merge.

A total of 86 House members -- almost evenly split between Republicans and
Democrats -- raised 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 that 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.

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

One of the House Democrats to sign was Eni Faleomavaega, a nonvoting delegate
from American Samoa, a U.S territory since 1900.

An EchoStar spokeswoman said she had seen the letter but did not have an
immediate comment.

Since Oct. 29, when the merger was announced, EchoStar chairman and CEO
Charlie Ergen has said that he would protect rural customers by offering
national pricing plans so that consumers without access to cable pay the same
direct-broadcast satellite prices as those with access to competitive

In the letter, the lawmakers explained that they represent parts of rural
America that rely heavily on DBS due to the unavailability of cable.

Although they did not say the deal should be blocked, the lawmakers said
approval should be conditioned on 'enforceable concession . not empty pledges
that provide no protection or value.'

The lawmakers insisted on safeguards concerning price, quality and 'access to
vital telecommunications services.'

Two House members played a key role in preparing the letter: Rep. Jo Ann
Emerson, a Missouri Republican, and Rep. Eva Clayton, a North Carolina Democrat.
The two lawmakers are co-chairs of the Congressional Rural