Saturday, July 26, 2008

FCC finally approves XM-Sirius merger

The Federal Communications Commission approved in a 3-2 vote Sirius's buyout of XM Friday night, after days of wrangling over last-minute conditions.

Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate voted to approve the deal and removed the final hurdle to the merger's completion. To secure her vote, the companies voluntarily agreed to pay a combined $19.7 million in fines to settle FCC rule violations; including locating towers in un-approved locations and selling radios which exceeded power limits.

In a statement, Ms. Tate said she was pleased that the FCC had "first finalized our enforcement proceeding against two companies that have flagrantly violated FCC rules and regulations."

Her tie-breaking vote marks the end of a long saga for investors, customers and the companies, which first announced their proposed merger in February 2007. Justice Department officials agreed to the deal in March but it took the FCC months longer to craft conditions that satisfied a majority of its five members.

Tate's vote capped off a tumultuous few days, which had the companies' shareholders anxiously waiting for news that the deal had finally been completed even as FCC commissioners continued to pore over paperwork. Tate held off on voting in favor of the merger until she was satisfied that the enforcement part of the deal was completed and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had signed off on it. That resulted in something of a stalemate on Friday, although they eventually reached an accord.

In an interview, Martin said that the deal would "be positive for consumers and the general public" and that subscribers would have more choices in pricing and channels now than they had in the past.

As part of the deal, the companies have agreed to a three-year price cap as well as promising to bring interoperable radios to the market within a year. They've also agreed to a la carte pricing so that subscribers will have more choices over which stations they receive. The companies also agreed to set aside 8% of their total channels for educational and minority-owned channels.

The companies agreed to most of those conditions a month ago, when Martin first proposed that the agency approve the deal. Tate did not require any other major conditions, although the FCC will now launch an inquiry into whether satellite radio companies should include technology in their radio receivers that would allow subscribers to also hear new digital channels from local radio stations. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

No comments: