- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

To those who thought the National Association of Broadcasters couldn’t yell any louder in opposing the proposed merger of XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, think again.

The trade group, which represents traditional AM/FM radio broadcasters, yesterday stepped up anti-merger efforts with a spreadsheet comparing the satellite radio companies’ current per-channel prices with the new prices promised in a slew of a la carte offerings.

Currently, XM, which has 170 channels, and Sirius, which has 130 channels, charge $12.95 a month. Last month, Sirius chief Mel Karmazin, who would head the combined company, unveiled a new pricing scheme that would start at $6.99 for 50 channels from either service; selecting Howard Stern, Oprah or sports would incur additional charges, however. The proposal also includes separate$9.99 packages of only music or only news, talk and sports. In addition, consumers could select 100 channels from either service.

The companies, whose merger must be approved by both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, tout the proposed plans as one of the benefits of a combined company.

According to the NAB analysis, customers currently pay 8 cents per channel for XM and 10 cents per channel for Sirius. Under each proposed a la carte package, customers would be paying anywhere from 14 cents to 25 cents per channel.

“If ‘a la carte’ is intended to mean more choices and lower prices, XM and Sirius fail the test,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said.

The companies shot back, accusing the NAB of opposing the merger “to protect AM/FM radio from competition, not to protect consumers.”

“It’s no surprise that the NAB’s misinformed and self-serving analysis fails to mention that Sirius and XM will reduce the price for entry-level satellite radio service to $6.99 — a reduction of 46 percent.”

And if a positive, albeit generalized, response to a specific question is any indication, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin’s comments at a meeting yesterday were good news for the companies. Mr. Martin, a Republican, told reporters he was “pleased any time companies come forward with proposals that would give consumers more control over what they pay for,” the Associated Press reported.

White spaces

A group of leading technology companies — Google, Dell, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, among others — are hoping to take advantage of unused local broadcast frequencies once the transition from analog to digital TV takes place in February 2009.

The companies, which have joined together as the “White Spaces Coalition,” argue that these “white spaces” could be utilized for cell phones and other wireless devices, spurring innovation and competition.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, oppose the idea for fear the devices might be unable to detect which channels are vacant, or might interfere with licensed broadcasters.

In December, the FCC put out a request asking the technology companies to submit a prototype device so they could test its ability to detect and avoid other signals on the spectrum. Last week, the agency’s laboratory said initial “white spaces” devices did not pass FCC tests that measured its ability it to sense signals from broadcast TV stations and other services.

The sample devices “did not consistently sense or detect TV broadcast or wireless microphone signals,” the lab’s report concluded. However, the commission left the door open for improved devices, noting, “We are open to the possibility that future prototype devices may exhibit improved performance.”

Channel Surfing runs on Wednesdays. E-mail krowland@washingtontimes.com.



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