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Adelphia Buyers May Hit FCC Snag

June 29, 2006|From Bloomberg News

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin wants Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc. to grant competitors access to local sports programs as part of the two companies' $17.6-billion purchase of Adelphia Communications Corp., FCC officials familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

Martin made the proposal last week to the other four FCC commissioners, the people said. As a condition of approving Adelphia's sale, it would require the buyers to offer local sports broadcasts to satellite competitors including DirecTV Group Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp., said the officials, who asked not to be identified because the document wasn't intended for public release.

FCC approval is one of the last remaining hurdles for the sale of Adelphia to Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Martin last week said the commission would probably vote on the transaction in mid-July. The buyers Tuesday won court approval to buy Adelphia for cash and stock in the largest bankruptcy sale in U.S. history.

"Martin will get the votes he needs," said Blair Levin, a Stifel Nicolaus analyst who used to be FCC chief of staff. "There is a lot of support both at the FCC and Congress for constraining the power of companies that combine distribution with regional sports networks."

Adelphia is trying to meet a July 31 deadline that might let Time Warner and Comcast walk away from the deal.

DirecTV, the largest U.S. satellite broadcaster, has expressed concern that Comcast's and Time Warner's regional concentration would allow them to withhold or raise the prices of broadcasting professional sports games. El Segundo-based DirecTV alleged in February that Comcast overcharged satellite broadcasters for Sacramento Kings basketball games. Comcast denied it.

Martin recommended that the games be offered by Comcast and Time Warner at reasonable prices, the officials said.

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