Decision Surfacing on DIRECTV/Liberty

Liberty Media's pending acquisition of a controlling stake in DIRECTV from News Corp. is expected to win Federal Communications Commission approval within days, if not today.

The agency's three Republicans - Chairman Kevin Martin, Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell - are expected to give the transaction the majority vote it needs to win approval. It's uncertain how the panel's two Democrats - Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein - will vote on the deal.

And it's uncertain how an approval process would be handled today given that the FCC is holding an off-site hearing on broadband management practices in Massachusetts. What is clear, however, is that the agency may take the lead in approving the DIRECTV/Liberty efforts over the Justice Department, which has antitrust staff scrutinizing the transaction.

It's expected that the Justice Department also will sign off on the deal.

Issues tied to the transaction include Liberty Media's ownership of a cable system in Puerto Rico, and any conflicts that arise given DIRECTV's service to the island. Also, a local TV service delivered by DIRECTV could be put under some scrutiny, though it appears those issues may end up not becoming such a big deal.

In December 2006, News Corp. agreed to swap its controlling stake in DIRECTV for Liberty Media's interest in News Corp. Also, News Corp. will pay Liberty $550 million in cash and hand over three regional sports networks as part of the deal.

The companies first proposed the transaction in December 2006.