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FCC Stands by Sirius-XM Merger

Mt. Wilson had said satcasters should have to abide by indecency rules

After the FCC approved the merger of Sirius and XM satellite radio companies in 2008, Los Angeles-based Mt. Wilson Broadcasters protested the decision, saying that both satcasters should have been required to comply with the commission’s indecency rules, as terrestrial radio is required to.

The FCC has now denied Mt. Wilson’s petition for reconsideration, saying the broadcaster has not shown the agency made an error in its decision to allow Sirius and XM to combine.

Mt. Wilson had endorsed a merger condition proposed by Clear Channel, arguing that because the commission had become aware that potentially indecent satellite radio programming was being received over terrestrial radio frequencies on some tuners.

As Radio World reported at the time, the problem was with some wireless low-power FM modulators being used by satellite radio subscribers who wanted to feed their satellite radio programming from their portable device through their car speakers.

The wireless FM modulators were over-modulating and the satellite radio signal overwhelmed the signal of terrestrial radio stations on nearby cars. Both commercial and non-commercial stations said their listeners reported being blasted by allegedly indecent programming as the programming would suddenly change.

The commission made Sirius, XM and their suppliers remove the unsold problematic FM modulators from the market and reimburse consumers who had them and replace them with newer versions that complied with Part 15 rules.

Noting that the commission doesn’t impose subscription services to indecency restrictions, Mt. Wilson said the FM modulator situation exposed terrestrial stations to potential fines for violating the commission’s broadcast indecency rules. “Numerous” complaints were filed at the agency about satellite programming that was aired over terrestrial stations and deemed indecent by listeners, argued Mt. Wilson.

Making Sirius and XM abide by the indecency rules as a condition of their merger approval “would serve the public interest and ensure in the future that the new entity, Sirius XM, is more attentive to equipment compliance,” according to Mt. Wilson, which adds the FCC could still impose the condition after its portion of the merger review closed.

Sirius XM opposed the condition, saying it is not a “Part 73 broadcaster” subject to indecency programming regulations, and that the commission’s enforcement action regarding the FM modulators “resolved the concerns” that form the basis for Mt. Wilson’s protest.

In denying Mt. Wilson’s petition for reconsideration, the FCC said it had also earlier told Sirius and XM it would monitor their compliance with the Part 15 rules and believes those actions are sufficient. It does say, however, any party that has evidence of non-compliant behavior is welcome to file a complaint with the Enforcement Bureau.