Bill aims to limit satellite radio local news, weather coverage

| 6/28/2005

Could radio kill the radio star?

That’s the question lawmakers in Washington are asking with a bill before the House of Representatives that would limit satellite radio services’ ability to rebroadcast localized content to specific parts of the country.

Under the bill, HR998, sponsored by Rep. Chip Pickering, R-MS, and Gene Green, D-TX, the two satellite radio service providers – XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio – would not be able to deliver local content to specific areas of the country.

The bill is currently before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. A similar bill was introduced last year but never made it to a vote.

When satellite radio was first approved by the FCC in 1997, it was agreed that the new service would only offer national content that would not affect local broadcasting’s coverage or advertising revenue, citing the fact that local news and weather provided a vital service to communities, particularly in emergency situations.

However, the two providers do offer local news and weather content. XM, for example, offers 21 of its 120-plus channels, each of which covers the news and weather for a major metropolitan area. But David Butler, manager of corporate communications for XM, said this type of operation still complies with FCC regulations because the stations are broadcast nationwide, not just to the community they cover.

“The bill, at best, is unnecessary, and at worst, would attempt to limit XM’s ability to provide traffic information to drivers. The stated purpose of the bill is to prevent XM from broadcasting specific content to specific cities. But that has been the case since the beginning of satellite radio. XM broadcasts all of its content nationwide, and does not beam exclusive content to an exclusive city,” Butler said. “This bill suggests that XM is somehow bending the rules, and that is absolutely false.”

Butler said that since the coverage is nationwide and does not target a specific market, it is not only legal, but meets a nationwide safety and traffic information need that broadcast radio cannot match.

“This is comprehensive, 24-hour coverage that AM and FM do not provide,” Butler said.