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MMTC Seeks Clarity on Leased Sirius XM Channels

Minority advocacy group says current definitions are too vague

Will those program channels that are supposed to be set aside in the satellite radio merger actually benefit minorities?

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council has asked the FCC to clarify several portions of its October order for Sirius XM to begin leasing 4% of its channel capacity on each service to qualified third-parties.

The intent of the channels, the FCC says, is to encourage new entrants and promote more diverse programming. Channel leases were a “voluntary” condition of federal merger approval in 2008. But in a petition, MMTC says the FCC’s updated definition of “qualified entities” is vague.

In its recent order about implementing leased channels, the commission set aside a requirement that Sirius XM offer channels specifically to minority owned companies. MMTC says the commission’s “qualified entities” definition provides little guidance to Sirius XM on increasing diversity, and should be clarified.

The FCC also said that any company that leases a channel cannot be owned by,or share common employees with, the satcaster or have supplied programming to Sirius XM in the past two years.

The MMTC wants the FCC to define the “relationships” that would disqualify a company from leasing a satellite radio channel. Specifically, the definition does not address whether programmers who have provided only modest amounts of programming, or have swapped content with Sirius XM, should be precluded from programming a set-aside channel, according to MMTC.

Additionally, “The commission should instruct Sirius XM to afford special consideration to companies that will promote diversity by virtue of non-racial factors such as their educational mission, language or Native American status,” says MMTC.

“In particular, the commission should direct Sirius XM to particularly consider qualified entities that would promote diversity but that are defined non-racially,” such as historically black colleges and universities, and institutions serving Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans that are based on mission, not race.

Additionally, the FCC required Sirius XM to notify the agency regarding a public website or similarly accessible source where it would publish information about the application process. Sirius XM has told the FCC that the application procedures for set-aside channels will be posted at by Nov. 23 and will include the qualified entity definition; deadline and procedures for submitting applications to lease channel capacity; information required from applicants; and criteria that Sirius XM intends to apply in reviewing potential lessees.