Party lines tied 2-2 on $3.5 billion radio deal

The Federal Communications Commission is said to be close to approving the long-pending $3.5 billion merger of the XM and Sirius satellite radio companies.

At present, the commission is officially split 2-2 along party lines over whether to approve the merger. The tie-breaker is in the hands of Republican commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, who is said to be leaning toward a yes vote, albeit with numerous conditions attached. Insiders think Tate’s vote could come by the end of this week.

Tate and FCC topper Kevin Martin are said to have been discussing the merger during the past two days.

Martin has said he would like the commission to register a full vote by Aug. 1, when the FCC holds its next monthly meeting.

Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein added his dissenting vote on Wednesday, joining his Dem colleague Michael Copps, who cast his on Monday.

GOP commissioner Robert McDowell cast his vote on Tuesday, joining Martin’s decision to approve.

Martin and McDowell have approved the merger subject to conditions that essentially codify what XM and Sirius have already volunteered to do, such as offer a la carte subscriptions, cap subscriber rates for three years and make a radio that can receive both the XM and Sirius signals.

Tate is reported to be concerned about violations the satcasters have committed with their terrestrial transmission equipment. She is said to want some kind of penalty or enforcement action — a $20 million fine, according to the Wall Street Journal — imposed for the violations. Should Martin and McDowell agree to such terms, Tate would likely vote to approve, insiders said.

Adelstein had tried to negotiate additional conditions but didn’t succeed.

“I was hoping to forge a bipartisan solution that would offer consumers more diversity in programming, better price protection, greater choices among innovative devices and real competition with digital radio,” Adelstein said in a statement. “Instead, it appears that they’re going to get a monopoly with window dressing.”

Adelstein had wanted the merged entity to cap subscriber rates for six years instead of three. He also wanted 25% of total capacity set aside for public interest or minority programming, and he pushed for new radios to be capable of receiving high-def broadcast signals in addition to the satellite signals of XM and Sirius.

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