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Competition and customer choice were again given as reasons for fighting the proposed merger between EchoStar and DirecTV by the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, one of the louder voices opposing the $26 billion deal.

A Wednesday conference call, hosted by Salomon Smith Barney satellite TV analyst Armand Musey, featured NRTC President and CEO Bob Phillips and Stephen Ryan, who is heading the NRTC's legal team spearheading opposition to the merger. Phillips summed up the feelings of the cooperative - and numerous rural constituents - by saying consumers "understand what happens when competition goes from three to two and two to one. It gets pretty lonely out there in the marketplace."

The NRTC folks punched holes in various promises forwarded by the merging companies, such as the combined entity's proposed national pricing plan, in which rural residents would pay the same price as those charged in urban areas. "We are still waiting to see what that (the national pricing plan) actually will be," Ryan said.

Phillips added that rural consumers would suffer with just one competitor in the programming area, given that one company could control everything viewers see in underserved areas. He cited pending retransmission consent negotiations between EchoStar and FOX, in which both sides have until June 30 to reach an agreement on delivery of FOX-owned stations or risk losing them on the satellite TV service.

"EchoStar is going to make that choice for customers," Phillips said, concerning any possible loss of FOX programming for viewers. "The customer will have no other option (for getting FOX stations.)"

The NRTC group said it could be late September or October before there is any indication what the Federal Communications Commission will do with the merger proposal. Ryan said the "principled legal wild card" in the merger process could be state attorneys general, who could pursue their own litigation targeting the proposed deal.

From SkyReport (Used with Permission)
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