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No FCC Nod Yet for DirecTV

FCC commissioners late Friday were struggling to wrap up approval of News Corp.'s $6.6 billion bid to control DirecTV.

At deadline, Chairman Michael Powell was trying to iron out details of the order that would get as many commissioners on board with as many provisions as possible. FCC sources were unsure whether the agency's approval would be completed Friday or talks would drag into Christmas week.

Sources following the talks said Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was withholding his vote in order to win language forbidding News Corp. from withholding company programming nets from rival cable and satellite providers during contract disputes and a provision making DirecTV commit to carriage of stations in smaller markets. Commissioners Kevin Martin and Michael Copps were said to be fighting for a provision that would forbid DirecTV from carrying some local channels on a secondary dish, which they feel would make those stations seem inferior.

Adelstein was said to be getting the prohibition on cutting off programming, but Powell was reportedly reluctant to grant demands for the rollout commitment or two-dish ban.

Adelstein's tougher arbitration clause was publicly floated by DirecTV's DBS rival EchoStar last week. EchoStar officials said News Corp. would have great incentive to temporarily deny access to regional sports networks or local Fox O&Os while negotiations are under way. Such a denial would have "a debilitating effect on that distributor's ability to compete in the region," EchoStar told the FCC.

Despite those disputes, the Republican majority was said at least to be ready to OK the deal on condition that an outside arbitrator settle disputes between News Corp. and cable operators negotiating to carry the company's programming. The commissioners are concerned that combining News Corp.'s extensive cable and broadcast programming with a nationwide multichannel distributor like DirecTV would give the company leverage to charge other carriers above-market prices for programming.