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WASHINGTON - The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it had delayed until June resuming its review of EchoStar Communications' bid to acquire rival satellite television provider Hughes Electronics while it seeks comments on its plan to boost local television offerings.

EchoStar and Hughes' DirecTV announced plans in February to launch a new spot-beam satellite if they are allowed to merge that will enable the combined firm to offer all local channels in all 210 local markets.

The two companies would have more than 16 million subscribers if they combine and have said they each only have enough capacity to offer local channels in 42 markets without the new satellite.

The FCC (news - web sites) is seeking public comment on the deal and must determine whether it is in the public interest for it to occur. However, the agency's chairman and the individual heading up the review team have expressed concerns that the deal could reduce competition in the satellite television market.

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The Reuters story I read went on to say that the normal 180-day review period which has been suspended for many weeks awaiting some documentation from D* and E* will continue until about June 4, allowing time for comments about the proposal to provide nationwide locals.

The story also notes that all locals are promised not later than 24 months after the merger closes. Assuming an optimistic governmental approval schedule and stockholder agreement, the last locals might not be available until late in 2004 or early 2005 (just before the 721 becomes available...).
:)
 
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