An XM-Sirius union: Yea or nay?

Federal regulators want the public's feedback on whether to waive a 1997 rule that would frown upon the proposed combo.

Whether you long to listen to Oprah Winfrey, Major League Baseball and Howard Stern all on the same satellite radio network or couldn't care less, federal regulators want to hear your thoughts on the proposed merger of XM and Sirius Satellite Radio.

In a document released Wednesday (PDF), the Federal Communications Commission acknowledged again that there are some persistent regulatory hurdles the operators must jump if they hope to get their union approved. Namely, a 1997 order adopted by the FCC prohibits such a combination when it would result in only one operator controlling all of the satellite radio spectrum, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has indicated he's reluctant to change that.

Now the FCC wants the public to comment on whether it should "waive, repeal or modify" that rule--that is, if it also determines that an XM-Sirius marriage serves the public interest.

The companies applauded the action in a joint statement on Wednesday. "This action puts all of the FCC decisions regarding approval of the merger on track," they said. "We remain confident that the merger is in the public interest, and continue to look forward to completing the regulatory approvals by year end."

A number of interest groups have already begun filing comments with the FCC since the agency accepted the companies' petition earlier this month to consolidate control of their broadcast licenses with XM. Among the groups that have voiced support for the merger are Americans for Tax Reform, the League of Rural Voters, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

But in the past, some members of Congress have questioned whether consumers will truly benefit from the multibillion-dollar deal. The National Association of Broadcasters and some major consumer advocacy groups--Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America--also oppose the merger.

The latest comment period is slated to be open for 30 days after the FCC's rules appear in the Federal Register, and then for another 15 days to register replies to the earlier comments. (It was not immediately clear when that publication would occur.) As with most FCC proceedings, comments can be filed online or by traditional mail.

 

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