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Dems Push HD Radio, Non-Com Spectrum Requirements in Satellite Merger

Conditions on Sirius/XM draw attention from some in both chambers of Congress.

Some Democrats in Congress this week supported the provisioning of a certain portion of satellite radio spectrum for non-com use as well as mandating HD-R in all satellite radios.

Five Democratic House members from Minnesota are concerned that an eight-channel set-aside for non-commercial channels is not enough should the XM/Sirius merger be approved.

The five — Reps. Timothy Walz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson and James Oberstar — signed a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Martin asking the agency to set aside 25 non-com channels should it approve the merger.

The five also support requiring the merged satcaster to include HD Radio capability in future interoperable sat rad receivers, as do Democratic senators who wrote Martin earlier this week.

“This would encourage competition in the digital terrestrial market and would leverage the millions of federal dollars already invested in the conversion of non-commercial stations to HD Radio technology,” the five lawmakers wrote.

They joined three Dems from the Senate — John Kerry, Ben Cardin and Claire McCaskill — who are concerned about the tentative merger conditions they’ve been reading about in the Washington Post. Although the merged entity has agreed to lease 12 channels (roughly 4% of its capacity) and set aside 12 more for non-com programming, “we believe that these commitments are not enough to ensure a viable competitor,” they stated.

The FCC should require the merged entity to lease as much as 50% of its satellite system capacity, and no less than 20%.

Also, allotting 12 channels for minority programming out of a possible 300 channels “squanders” an opportunity for truly enhanced minority ownership or control created by the proposed merger, they stated.

The three also support mandating integrated HD Radio in all satellite radios.