When the FCC granted satellite radio licenses to Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio, one of their specific requirements was that the two license holders not be allowed to merge. Fast forward six years and now it looks as if the FCC will soon approve their merger. As part of FCC deliberations, many people and organizations are jumping in to try to add conditions to the merger.
I was looking at this proposal by U.S. Electronics (you can see the original here). The core of their proposal involves four conditions. The first three are pretty basic:
- The new company should make available pricing choices such as a la carte or tiered programming;
- The new company should make 5% of its channel capacity available to non-commercial educational and informational programming over which it has no editorial control;
- The new company should agree not to raise prices for its combined programming package (as opposed to each individual company’s current programming package) for three years after the merger is approved;
But to me the fourth condition is a bit more interesting:
- The new company should make the technical specifications of its devices and network open and available to allow device manufacturers to develop, and consumers to use, any device they choose without interference. Pursuant to Commission rules, these devices must be certified by the FCC for receiving signals on the frequencies licensed to the merged entity and be subject to a minimum “do-no-harm” requirement.
Open devices on satellite radio might sound unworkable at first, but consider this: what if one company controlled the manufacture of all AM and FM radios? What variety of radios do you think would be available? Yet that situation is the rough equivalent of today’s satellite radio market.
I don’t expect the FCC to add an open device condition (XM and Sirius are very much against it), but it’s an interesting idea just the same.