The compromise package of fines and consumer protections imposed by the FCC in exchange for approving the merger of the Sirius and XM satellite radio companies July 25 did not include key provisions sought by public radio advocates.
Pubcasters lobbied members of Congress and commissioners to triple from 8 to 25 percent the spectrum capacity that the merged company would have to set aside for public interest and minority programming. They also asked the commission to require the inclusion of HD Radio receiving chips in satellite radio receivers, allowing subscribers to receive free digital signals from terrestrial stations.
Neither provision was in the final agreement approved in a 3-2 party-line vote on Friday. Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who backed the provisions, ended up voting against the merger.
“Commissioner Adelstein floated his proposals, for which we were most grateful and supportive, then he realized the leadership was not in an accepting mode,” said Mike Riksen, NPR v.p. for government relations.
In the end, Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, who insisted that the companies be forced to pay nearly $20 million in fines to resolve interference complaints and violations, joined the Republican majority to approve the merger.
The final merger agreement “undermines public radio and, in turn, the public’s access to our services,” said Dennis Haarsager, interim NPR c.e.o., in a statement issued after the vote. “While NPR, other public radio producers and public radio stations have had long and mutually beneficial relationships with both companies, this new monopoly — wielding unprecedented control over spectrum and without mitigating conditions we sought—will limit the public service mission of public radio and dilute the significant investment our community, our audience and Congress have made in HD Radio technology. The public interest is not being served in this decision.”
Sirius carries two channels of programming, primarily talk shows, from NPR. XM carries the daily interview show hosted by Bob Edwards, former Morning Edition host, as well as programming from Public Radio International and American Public Media.
Pubradio mounted a grassroots campaign to lobby for the expanded public-interest requirements, enlisting stations to contact members of Congress, FCC commissioners and their staff members, according to Riksen.
News release: FCC approves merger with conditions, Word document.