The Future of Satellite Radio?

by Ava L. Parker on November 28, 2010

What is the promise, and what is the future, of satellite radio? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is wrestling with that issue now as it rewrites the terms of the 2008 merger of the only two satellite radio companies, Sirius and XM.

A little background: Sirius and XM each use satellites to beam radio programs to Earth, serving subscribers in the United States and Canada. This satellite technology provides two great advantages — a nationwide audience, and many program channels available simultaneously.

The promise of coast-to-coast reach has proved real. You can’t outrun the Sirius or XM signals, even on a full tank of gas. North or South, East or West, the satellites will find you anywhere you are.

As for the promise of offering many and varied programs, well, yes … and no. Yes, there is plenty of music (heavy on classic rock and country), and comedy, and talk radio, but no, there is not a lot of true cultural diversity. That’s why, when the FCC, in 2008, approved a merger of the two companies, it required that twelve new channels be set aside for programs aimed at underserved communities and cultural and ethnic minorities.

That made sense. Satellite radio is struggling now — the merger is necessary, the companies argued, because there were not adequate subscribers to support the heavy costs of operating two satellite systems — but it could prove to be a vital part of the future of broadcasting. And that future needs to address the needs of all Americans and speak to all Americans with information they need and in languages they speak.

With the multitude of separate channels that can be offered by Sirius and XM, this diversity could be easily achieved. There is room for more African-American, Asian American, and Native American, and Spanish language programs, and room for other content rarely found on the FM or the AM dial. No problem. Technically, the goal is easily within reach.

Except that the FCC recently backed away from that requirement. Now, the merged company (called Sirius XM, operating two different satellite broadcasting systems) need only choose channel operators from enterprises that haven’t provided programming to Sirius or XM for the past two years. That’s extremely broad — virtually every company in America qualifies – even Google and Yahoo. Where’s the diversity in that?

The FCC has dealt a blow to the diversity goal. The FCC should be taking action to ensure that satellite radio, the likely future of broadcasting, carries a lineup of programs that is adequately diverse. Instead, it is taking action that allows the merged company to skirt any diversity requirements.

That’s why the Minority and Media Telecommunications Council, or MMTC, the nation’s leading advocate for minority advancement in communications, has filed a petition asking the FCC to reconsider this change in the terms of the Sirius XM merger.

MMTC calls on the FCC to require the merged company to consider awarding channels to underrepresented groups that are not defined by race but whose inclusion would add racial diversity, such as HBCUs, Native American entities, and multilingual programmers. MMTC also encourages the FCC to state that for subsequent mergers it would use a standard developed by the FCC’s own Diversity Committee – awarding scarce resources to those who, through dint of individual effort, have overcome a variety of disadvantages.

These standards are not based on race. They are fair, and they are workable. Companies can use these criteria to select new program providers that meet the companies’ needs and those of the listening public. And that’s how it should be.

MMTC was right to step in and try to correct this gross error by the Federal Communications Commission. Let’s hope the FCC takes advantage of this opportunity to rethink its decision and restore modest and reasonable expectations of increased diversity.

  • Ava L. Parker of Jacksonville, Florida, is the president of Linking Solutions Inc., a business-development and community-outreach firm, and a partner in the law firm of Lawrence & Parker, PA., and the voice of The AvaView, a blog on digital action and consumer protection.

  • Follow Us on Facebook
  • Follow Us on Twitter
  • Subscribe to Newsletter

  • WatcherRTB

    Wow! Interesting.

    FCC needs to show some backbone. This revision to the merger terms is meaningless — it would do nothing as far as creating a more mixed channel lineup.

  • Steven R.

    The FCC can do better than this — very disappointing.

  • Guest

    Wow…so the FCC stops enforcing EEO and now it pretty much destroys chances for minority ownership in Sirius-XM…are they trying to kill all diversity in the industry, period?

  • DianneG

    It make sense to encourage diversity. There is nothing but space and opportunity (pun intended) for the channels that promote diversity. Come on FCC don’t give up the good fight.

  • Bill Edmonds

    I like my XM radio, and all the tunes, but … come on, this is disturbing that the parent company couldn’t agree to do something to enrich the mix.

    The original requirement was gentle, to say the least. Why is Sirius-XM fighting this?

  • Roger W.G.

    So far, the FCC hasn’t said no to anything as regards this monopoly merger — and now it is erasing any requirement for increased diversity.

    What’s up with the FCC? It is clearly on the side of the broadcast industry in this merger proposal.

    So, who is on the side of consumers and the public?

  • Sheila

    Ms. Parker is right in that Sirius and XM have some diversity already — but it could sure use more.

  • GetConnected

    I am glad MMTC stepped in. The EEO rule has to be enforced.

  • CarlaKnows

    This stinks.

    C’mon, FCC … you can do better than this.

  • CBrown

    Give me a break! Sirius XM can do a lot more to mix it up a bit.

    The requirements were minimal — and the company doesn’t even want to do that?

    Good grief.

  • Lucylu

    Lucy Lu,

    FCC should be ashamed of themselves. Good thing MMTC is here again to save the day and ensure diversity is always present.

  • Pingback: A Sirius Commitment to Diversity

Previous post:

Next post: