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Washington Watch

Clearance claim

Comcast and AT&T Broadband said last week that they expect their merger to close in the fourth quarter, given the expiration of the Justice Department's Hart-Scott-Rodino waiting period for consummating mergers under antitrust review.

Although the antitrust waiting period has expired, DOJ officials noted that their review continues and they are trying to reach a decision as quickly as possible. Although Justice may not block the deal, it can still order divestitures and impose other conditions on the company. Justice also pointed out that the deal cannot close until it is approved by the FCC. Public-advocacy groups said the companies' announcement affirms their worry that DOJ will approve the deal with no conditions.

Tentative fix in Fairfax County

Looks like Cox Cable of Fairfax County, Va., will keep its franchise. Last July, the county threatened to revoke it if the MSO didn't produce a plan by this week detailing how it was going to complete its fiber upgrade by May 2003, a year after its initial deadline. Cox countered that the delay was, in part, the government's fault for refusing to let it put above-ground pedestals on public land.

It will ultimately be up to the board of supervisors, but, according to a source, the county and Cox have struck a deal that will be presented to the board today, which is expected to approve it. The plan gives Cox a little more time to complete the upgrade and wire the county's schools; the source said Cox told the county it could not meet the May 2003 deadline. The new deadline will likely be sometime between May 2003 and the end of the year. Cox has agreed to bury most pedestals on public rights-of-way and put most above-ground equipment on private land. Cox declined comment.

The board had voted to fine Cox $2,000 a day starting at the original deadline and holding the money in escrow to be returned only if the May 2003 deadline is met. Instead, Cox will likely get all the money back if a third deadline is met.

Bogus bulge battlers

A Federal Trade Commission study of weight-loss ads concludes that "false or misleading claims" are widespread and on the rise. In a preface to the study, released last week, the Surgeon General urges broadcasters, among others, to "adopt reasonable screening measures to assure that the weight-loss ads they carry are based on science and not on wishful thinking."

The study is a staff report and does not necessarily represent the views of the commission, although Surgeon General Richard Carmona clearly sees it as the media's and advertisers' responsibility to be more vigilant against false and deceptive weight loss ads.

Belo's McCarthy to Wiley, Rein & Fielding

Retiring Belo Corp. Senior Executive Vice President/ General Counsel Michael McCarthy will become a partner at D.C. communications law firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding on Oct. 1. He has been a director and executive-committee member of the National Association of Broadcasters and chairman of the NAB's digital television transition task force. Currently, he is on the board of the Association for Maximum Service Television.

FCC eyes Univision channel switch

The FCC is expediting review of Univision's request to substitute an allotment at ch. 52 Blanco, Texas, for ch. 17. The FCC is proposing to allow the switch even though ch. 17 does not offer sufficient spacing from land mobile frequencies in the market to guarantee standard interference protections. Consequently, Univision must accept interference from current and future land mobile base stations and agree not to cause interference to land mobile users. The Mexican government must also agree to the allotment. Comments are due Nov. 12, replies Nov. 27. Because ch. 52 was auctioned after the digital allocation, the Blanco station did not receive a paired allotment for digital operation. Separately, Univision has taken the FCC to court to obtain the ch. 17 allotment.


The Black Broadcasters' Alliance, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, and Black Entertainment & Telecom Association hosted separate conferences the week of Sept. 9, not joint events as stated on page 28 of last week's issue.

Levin tops list

Andy Levin will have his hands full if he takes one of the more high-profile lobbying jobs in the media industry. Sources say Levin, now telecom aide to Rep. John Dingell, ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is the lead candidate to run the new D.C. office of Clear Channel Worldwide. The largest radio owner in the U.S. has been represented by law firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding but is adding in-house lobbying to fend off a slew of regulatory and legislative challenges. Levin did not return a phone call seeking comment.