Markey Pushes Tighter XM-Sirius Conditions

House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman asks FCC to mandate that satellite-radio receivers also receive radio-station digital-radio broadcasts.

House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) upped the ante on conditions that he thinks the Federal Communications Commission has to apply if it decides to approve the XM Satellite Radio-Sirius Satellite Radio deal.

While Markey has already said that he thought the commission should mandate open receivers, he said in a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin that he should take "immediate steps" to enforce that mandate.

But he went further, saying that he now believes the FCC needs to mandate that the receivers also receive radio-station digital-radio broadcasts.

Markey’s letter to Martin came one day after National Public Radio similarly asked the FCC to condition any deal on mandating reception of its stations, as well.

Markey said a combined XM-Sirius would likely transition to more ad-supported fare, which could "affect the viability of free over-the-air radio" as it makes its own digital transition.

Markey also said he thought the two satellite-radio companies’ offering of a three-year moratorium on price hikes should be extended to six, and that a proposed 12-channel set-aside for noncommercial satellite programmers (not to be confused with the noncommercial NPR stations that could be accessed on the receivers) was insufficient, adding that the number should instead be some percentage of capacity so that advances in digital compression "do not diminish the impact of the set-aside."

Late last month, a trio of Democratic senators asked for similar conditions, including receivers that get terrestrial broadcasters’ HD-radio branded digital broadcasts, interoperable radios and as many as 50 channels set aside.

Martin had proposed approving the deal under various conditions, including a price-hike moratorium, interoperable radios and the 8% carve-out for noncommercial channels and other outside entities, which would be somewhat analogous to cable's set-asides for public, educational and government (PEG) channels and leased-access programmers.

One other commissioner reportedly also signed off on that deal, which leaves the chairman one vote short and calling on the other commissioners to put their cards on the table in terms of conditions and alternate proposals.

Currently, the FCC is thought to be split 2-2, with the chairman and Republican commissioner Robert McDowell said to be OK with the compromise, the two Democrats on the commission not convinced that the compromise conditions are sufficient and Republican Deborah Taylor Tate still weighing them.

Two weeks ago, three Republican legislators wrote Tate to ask her to oppose the merger. They were among 69 who had written a letter exactly one year before to express their opposition.