Public Knowledge has filed comments in response to a Public Notice from the FCC requesting comment on the proposed XM/Sirius merger. The comments generally parallel Gigi Sohn's previous testimony before Congress. Like the testimony, the comments state that if the Department of Justice approves the merger under its own criteria, the FCC should approve the merger. However, the merger should only be approved under certain conditions that would serve the public interest by promoting diverse programming, giving consumers additional choices and keeping prices in check. The comments also include two important additions–a clarification of the price-freeze condition and a request that the FCC initiate a rulemaking in regards to terrestrial radio's current monopoly on local programming.
The core of Public Knowledge's position lies in three proposed conditions. These conditions are designed to ensure that the benefits of the merger will be passed on to the public. Specifically, the merger should be conditioned on 1) providing consumers with pricing choices such as a la carte or tiered programming 2) the new company allocating 5% of its capacity to non-commercial educational and informational programming over which it has no editorial control and 3) not raising prices for three years.
The first pricing condition is designed to make sure that customers aren't locked into subscribing to a more expensive bundle of channels than what they'd ordinarily pay for. This way, someone who is more interested in sports than talk radio will be able to pick programming packages more tailored to their needs, and not be left with a choice between all available programming or nothing.
The 5% set aside condition will ensure that public interest programming won't get pushed off the air, and that the voices and opinions heard on the channels won't be under the control of one sole company.
The third condition, the price cap, is designed to make sure that the new company won't take advantage of its stronger position in the market, either by charging higher prices for the same content, or for the same content plus a few other channels. Part of this condition includes a limit on a “best of” package. Since there are no receivers on the market that can receive XM and Sirius' signals, the new company plans to provide “best of” packages where XM subscribers could receive their current channels plus some of Sirius' popular channels. Conversely, Sirius subscribers could receive their current channels coupled with the “best of” XM's programming. New subscribers could choose between the XM-based or the Sirius-based “best of” packages. The price-freeze condition stipulates that the current rate of $12.95 per month should continue to apply to the new “best of” package so that consumers truly benefit from increased availability of content.
Public Knowledge also urged the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to determine whether allowing terrestrial broadcasters to maintain their current monopoly on local programming (such as traffic and weather) is in the public interest. Currently, terrestrial radio broadcasters have a monopoly on local programming, and Public Knowledge fears that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has a long history of opposing satellite radio, will fight to maintain terrestrial radio's current local programming monopoly to the public's detriment.
For more information about the proposed merger, see the FCC's site.