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EchoStar/DirecTV dominates Justice

The Department of Justice is working as fast as it can on the DirecTV
Inc./EchoStar Communications Corp. merger, but Charles James, assistant attorney
general for the DOJ's Antitrust Division, wasn't ready to tell the Senate
Judiciary Committee just when it might be completed.

At a hearing Thursday on the state of
antitrust enforcement, James assured Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.) and the other
committee members that 'no single matter in the antitrust division is consuming more resources.'

James also emphasized that it was still working on another major merger much
in the news.

When asked how the antitrust division could let the 'deadline for dealing
with the merger' of AT&T Broadband and Comcast Corp. pass without 'a whisper of concern or
the most modest of conditions,' James responded that the investigation was
continuing and that the DOJ was 'not in a position to move against them because
there is no imminent harm.'

On the issue of predatory pricing practices in cable-overbuild situations,
James said the DOJ needs to look at it periodically as the marketplace changes
and added that there is at least one current investigation of a cable company
for predatory practices.

Kohl expressed concern that media mergers had resulted in 'fewer and fewer
companies controlling the sources of news and entertainment,' diminishing the
number of smaller, independent voices.

Kohl said he shared former Federal Trade Commission chairman Robert
Pitofsky's view that media-merger reviews require more exacting scrutiny because
they affect the marketplace of ideas.

James responded that if Pitofksy meant that media industries are important
and, thus, mergers there merit close scrutiny, 'I think that is absolutely

But James said he wasn't sure he
would agree that there should be any basis for scrutinizing such a merger other than the economic consequences.

'The concept of diversity of viewpoints is more in the province of the FCC
[Federal Communications Commission],' he said.

FTC chairman Tim Muris echoed those general sentiments
but suggested that there was some overlap between diversity of voices and
antitrust issues.