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ACCC delays decision on Foxtel-Austar tie up

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has delayed a decision on the proposed acquisition of regional pay TV operator Austar by Foxtel.

update The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has delayed a decision on the proposed acquisition of regional pay TV operator Austar by Foxtel.

News of the delay was announced prior to the publication in the Australian Financial Review of a four-year investigation into claims that News Corporation aided and abetted hackers in the practice of hacking and pirating smart cards used in pay TV boxes.

The delay followed submissions by Foxtel and Telstra's competitors, such as Optus and iiNet. In iiNet's submission to the ACCC, it claimed Foxtel's undertakings to provide movies and lifestyle shows to IPTV competitors would "have little (if any) meaningful effect" on the market for compelling content.

The self-proclaimed number two in the DSL broadband market goes on to make the case that recognised content providers, such as National Geographic, will remain exclusive to Foxtel and that the main driver for pay TV in Australia is live sports, such as AFL, NRL, rugby, tennis and cricket.

News Corporation owns 25 per cent of Foxtel, with another 25 per cent owned by Consolidated Media Holdings (CMH), while the remaining half belongs to Telstra. In turn, News Corporation and CMH each hold 50 per cent of Fox Sports.

No new date has been set for a decision from the ACCC. Austar will push ahead with plans for a shareholder meeting to vote on the proposed deal with Foxtel on Friday, 30 July.

Although this delay isn't because of the piracy allegations, Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said today that these allegations were a good reason to delay the decision.

"The takeover would exacerbate the one-way trend towards monopoly in Australia's pay TV sector and until these serious allegations against News Corp entities are resolved the ACCC should put any decision on hold," he said in a statement.

"All relevant material pertaining to the allegations of commercial piracy by News Corp against rival subscription television vendors should be reviewed by the ACCC before coming to a conclusion on the proposed $1.9 billion takeover."

Via Media Spy, TV Tonight, The Australian

Updated at 5.44pm, 28 March 2012: added comment from Senator Ludlam.

AAP contributed to this article.