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XM Radio patent angers broadcasters

Broadcasters are complaining to the FCC that the company quietly got a patent to use its signal repeater network to provide local radio programming.

Broadcasters are complaining to the Federal Communications Commission that XM Satellite Radio quietly got a patent to use its signal repeater network to provide local radio programming--something XM had said it wouldn't do.

XM spokesman Charles Robbins said the company has no intention of offering local programming; it plans to stick with its format of nationally syndicated programming. The patent was one of a number the company was granted, but is no guarantee that it will ever be used, he said.

The patent has angered the National Association of Broadcasters and its hundreds of member radio stations. The group claims that XM deceived the FCC last year when it won approvals to use repeaters--ground-based antenna used to amplify a signal. The approval was based on XM's assurances that it would only use the repeaters to boost the signal, according to the NAB.

But the patent awarded to XM makes use of these repeaters to learn about an XM radio's location. The geographical location could be used to offer local radio stations or other types of local programming, the NAB said.

"This development indicates that the FCC has either dropped the ball, or that XM believes it does not have to play by the rules," NAB President Edward O. Fritts said in a statement.

XM Radio began broadcasting 100 channels worth of music and news using a pair of satellites--named "Rock" and "Roll"--orbiting 22,000 miles above the earth. The company didn't have to get an AM/FM radio license, like its competitors, because it used repeaters, a different technology from what local programmers use.

But the patent could make XM a local service and put it in direct competition with local radio stations. But most local radio stations that rely on ground-based antennas aren't allowed to use repeaters, which boost a signal's strength, she said.

XM's actions "suggest it is time for the individual FCC commissioners to put a halt to this use of a terrestrial repeater network," Fritts said in his statement.

Robbins stresses the company does not intend to offer local programming.

"What's at issue is XM's activities and intentions," he said. "XM's activity is to broadcast nationally. It is irrelevant what patents you happen to hold."

XM Satellite Radio's major investors include members of the auto industry. One major investor, General Motors, factory installed XM radios in Cadillac DeVille and Seville models in November. Equipment makers Sony, Alpine and Pioneer now make XM radios.