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Sirius-XM merger wins blessing of FCC chairman

The satellite radio broadcasters would dedicate 24 channels to noncommercial use.

June 16, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is recommending approval of a $5-billion merger between the nation's two satellite radio broadcasters in exchange for concessions that include turning over 24 channels to noncommercial and minority programming.

That condition -- along with others, including a three-year price freeze for consumers -- convinced FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin on Sunday to recommend approval for Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.'s buyout of rival XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. The deal affects millions of subscribers who pay to hear music, news, sports and talk programming, largely free from advertising, in their homes and vehicles.

Martin's recommendation sets the stage for a final vote on the closely watched merger. The vote could occur at any time after his recommendation is officially circulated among his fellow commissioners.

The proposed merger has been in a holding pattern during an FCC approval process that has gone on for more than a year.

Martin said the concessions will make the combination of the two companies good for consumers.

"As I've indicated before, this is an unusual situation," Martin said in a statement. "I am recommending that with the voluntary commitments they have offered, on balance, this transaction would be in the public interest."

Martin is recommending approval despite intense opposition from the land-based radio industry and most consumer groups, which say the deal will create a monopoly.

Both companies have lost money each year since they launched their satellites, but have not said that the merger was necessary to keep them afloat. Washington-based XM has about 9 million subscribers. New York City-based Sirius has about 8.3 million.

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