In an Op-Ed piece published in the New York Sun Today, former FCC Chairman Mark Fowler had a pretty strong message regarding the proposed merger of Sirius and XM. Fowler outlined anti-competitive tactics used by the broadcast industry, and stated that within that industry little has changed. Fowler is correct, little has changed. The broadcast industry has fought FM radio, tape players, cell phones, low powered FM, and many other things over the years. All in an effort to maintain the status quo for themselves.

One might say that traditional broadcasters are the NIMBY'S (Not In My Back Yard) of the entertainment industry. They seem to resent change, progress, or new players becoming involved. Fowler points this out quite clearly in his article.

If one were to listen to the lobbyists of traditional broadcasters on the many subjects that they are involved in, you can see quite clearly that their agenda is not at all the public interest. Instead it is a lazy self preservation. Their worry is not survival, but rather having to change their business plans, and compete in a manner that gives consumers what they want, need, and desire.

Those that see this merger as anti-competitive are short sighted. The industry is dominated by traditional radio that has left consumers yearning for more. The problem is that the traditional broadcast industry does not want to improve. They would rather simply be dominant and unchanged. A stronger satellite radio segment will help bring the standards of traditional radio to a higher and more consumer friendly level. Terrestrial CAN compete. They simply would rather not have to. That is the sad state of affairs that can be seen in lobbying efforts.

They are against satellite consolidation, but argue for consolidation within their own ranks. They trumpet the importance of diversity and localism, but fight low powered FM and offer more nationally syndicated content with each passing year. One only needs to look at the National Association of Broadcasters Legislative Priorities to see that many of their priorities conflict with each other depending on what they are arguing for or against. The hypocrisy is stunning!

So, Fowler makes some very compelling and powerful statements. He offers a poignant opinion that not only carries merit, but weight as well. Sirius Buzz readers can read the Op-Ed piece in it's entirety after the jump, and can participate in a forum discussion on our Forums.


New York Sun

Mark Fowler

5 September 2007

As chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in 1981, I was visited by a lobbyist for the broadcast industry. Over-the-air broadcasters vehemently opposed the FCC's authorization of Direct Broadcast Satellite television services, and the lobbyist quickly launched into his preamble: "We are all for competition, Mr. Chairman, but... "

Meaning, "forget what I said up to the word 'but,' and now listen carefully..."

In observing the broadcasters' intense negative reaction to the proposed merger of the two satellite radio companies, XM and Sirius, it struck me that little has changed in 26 years. Each year, the skies over Washington darken as the Lear jets bring industry lobbyists to the latest battlefront against competition and its offshoot -- mergers that enhance competition.

In 1981, we were only beginning to envision the possibilities of satellite-delivered entertainment media services. Twenty-six years later, we live in an entertainment media marketplace that features a striking -- and exciting -- competitive dynamic beyond anything we could have envisioned. Although traditional over-the-air radio remains the most dominant audio entertainment platform, continued technological innovation has forced broadcasters to confront that they must offer better service and more choices to consumers if they are to compete and survive.

Satellite radio offers a perfect example of the phenomenon. Although it is a relatively nascent service, launched a little more than five years ago, satellite radio today offers diverse programming targeted to many audiences and tastes, largely on a commercial-free basis, using very high-quality digital signals.

And, in spite of the fact that satellite radio constitutes only 3.4% of radio listening today, traditional over-the-air radio operators have understood the potential threat and have had no choice but to compete, and have been dragged, albeit kicking and screaming, into the digital age.

Thus, the broadcast industry recently introduced and is pushing its own "HD Radio" initiative to allow radio stations across the country to offer multiple new, high-quality digital channels.

This is all to consumers' benefit. In the mean time, satellite and terrestrial radio also have been besieged by a host of additional competitors: iPods and other MP3 players, Internet radio services, and now mobile phones. All offer exciting new means of providing audio entertainment to consumers.

That is how things should be. Indeed, it is the precise dynamic that American communications and entertainment media policy should continue to foment. If the two satellite radio companies, each only several years old, need to combine to be more effective competitors in an audio entertainment marketplace teeming with technological change and innovation, the government should not stand in the way.

In the end, satellite radio may or may not survive, but let that be decided by the people through their electronic choices in the marketplace.

Mr. Fowler served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during the administration of President Reagan.

Tyler Savery Position - Long Sirius, Long XM