Rush Reconsiders XM/Sirius Set-Aside Support

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) says eight channels for minoority ownership not nearly enough

Senior House Energy & Commerce Committee member Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)  wrote FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on May 6, disavowing a letter about the XM/Sirius merger he had co-signed to Martin only the day before.

In the original letter, on which Rush teamed with New york Democratic Rep. Edolphus Towns, they had "fully supported" the voluntary commitment of XM and Sirius to carve out eight channels, four apiece, for minority owners.

Rush says that he and Towns had a "miscommunication," and that while he certainly advocates setting aside channels for minority ownership--both he and Towns are African American--he says eight channels aren't nearly enough.

"I firmly believe XM/Sirius can designate far more channels than eight," he said. He suggested something closer to the 35% of the population that people of color represent.

Rush was an early supporter of the merger, which he said would contribute to diversity of programming. He remains a supporter, he said, but the eight-channel set-aside fails to "satisfy [his] advocacy for a more aggressive policy that emulates the real diversity of the American public."

The Justice Department has already weighed in on the merger, saying it has no antitrust problems with the combination of the only two national satellite license holders because they are part of a broader audio market. But the FCC, which has other public interest concerns to mull, has yet to make a ruling, though Chairman Martin had hoped to do so by the end of March.

A highly placed FCC source was not looking for any decision this week. The two companies have twice delayed a drop-dead date for the merger absent government approval, and is now taking it two weeks at a time.