Word Files to Block DBS Merger


Word Network -- a religious network distributed by DirecTV Inc. but not
EchoStar Communications Corp. -- is asking federal regulators to block
EchoStar's plan to acquire Hughes Electronics Corp., DirecTV's corporate

Word, the programming of which is aimed at African Americans, filed a
petition Jan. 25 to oppose the $25.8 billion merger at the Federal
Communications Commission, which is in the early stages of its review.
Department of Justice approval is also needed.In the filing, Word complained
that EchoStar has repeatedly refused to carry the network as a qualified
noncommercial-, educational- and informational-programming service.

FCC rules require DBS carriers to set aside 4 percent of their channels for
such programming.

Word said EchoStar's acquisition of DirecTV would eliminate competition in
the direct-broadcast satellite market and would expose Word to losing access to
DirecTV's 10 million subscribers.

'Without competition, noncommercial educational programmers will be at the
mercy of the sole gatekeeper, and promoting diversity, the government purpose
and public policy served by the set-aside will be achieved only at the whim of
the sole DBS carrier,' Word said in a seven-page filing.

In addition to DirecTV, Word said it has 4 million cable subscribers and 6
million households via off-air television, including low-power TV.

The network did not say whether EchoStar is carrying any local TV stations
that air its programming.

The 24-hour network launched two years ago.

Without providing specifics, Word alleged that EchoStar 'is excluding
programmers who direct their noncommercial programming at African

However, in the FCC filing, Word attached two letters from EchoStar
explaining that the network had been rejected for carriage in October 2000 and
October 2002.

EchoStar did not have an immediate reaction to Word 's filing.

EchoStar subscribers will eventually receive Word pending approval of the
merger of the two DBS companies, EchoStar spokesman Marc Lumpkin said

But it will take two or three years for the company to create a uniform
programming lineup, he added.