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Thread: Using terrestrial repeaters for local programming?

  1. #1
    Demian is offline
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    Using terrestrial repeaters for local programming?

    This is my Question -

    Will Sirius/XM ever be allowed to use their network of local terrestrial repeaters to broadcast local content?

    As I understand the current FCC mandates to be, Sirius/XM is not allowed to broadcast any local programming at all over their satellites or local terrestrial repeaters. It seems that they are allowed to have several local weather and traffic channels though. Why is that then? Why can't they offer any other local content? Here are a couple of articles that talk about this....

    This seems very anticompetitive and not in the local communities best interest at all. I wonder if this would hold up in court? Wasn't NAB's whole argument to promote competition and choice in local markets? Clear Channel offers local and national programming through it's network of terrestrial repeaters, HD radio bandwidth, and they even have commercial channels on XM for gosh sake! Clear Channel has been destroying local radio content for years with it's cookie cutter, robot run, programming. Direct TV, Dish Network, and Comcast all provide local content. It seems to me that this would not hold up in court and is not in the local communities best interest to have less choice.....

    If Sirius/XM could use their local terrestrial repeater networks to broadcast local content - it would be huge! They could offer local content for free with commercials and even throw in some commercial free community interest programming like college radio etc.. This would drive radio sales and be an incentive for people to upgrade to the national content packages once they already had the radio. Ad revenue would explode!

    Why can't Sirius/XM do this? Am I missing something?

  2. #2
    Demian is offline
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    This is the wording in the FCC merger approval public notice...

    "Local Programming and Local Advertising -

    The Commission reiterated that SDARS licensees are already prohibited from using terrestrial repeaters to distribute localized programming and advertising. In addition, considering the importance of local sports programming to terrestrial radio stations, the Commission prohibited the merged entityfrom entering into any agreements that would preclude any terrestrial radio station from broadcasting live local sporting events."

    Does anyone know where I can find the specific "SDARS licensees" wording that speaks of this prohibition of local programming and advertising through the terrestrial repeaters? Notice how the above clause does not mention any prohibition of local content through the satellites. Does the local content prohibition only apply to the local repeaters? Is this why Sirius/XM are allowed to have those several local traffic and weather channels? I'm confused and I want to see the specific wording of the rules prohibiting local content transmission and how it applies to the local repeaters and the satellites. Is there any difference?

    If the FCC is prohibiting Sirius/XM from broadcasting local content of any kind, isn't that against free speech law? I don't think this would hold up in court. Sirius/XM should be allowed to broadcast local and national content just like every other spectrum holder has the right to do. Clear Channel broadcasts local and national content over their network of terrestrial repeaters all over the country. What difference does it make what the content is? Isn't the FCC's job to preside over technical matters like making sure radio waves don't interfere with each other etc.. As long as they are operating within the broadcast spectrum that they own, it seems like it would be against the law for the FCC to mandate the content. It's a closed subscription based model so they don't have to worry about swear words and sex talk etc., but it's against the law to provide a local newscast to the community over the radio spectrum that you own? It's just as absurd as the FCC telling people what they can and cannot talk about over their cell phone if it is with a national cell phone provider....

    I don't think this would hold up in court. Do local communities want less choice and competition? Is having less choice and competition ever been in the public's interest? Do we have free speech rights in this country or not? What would be the NAB and FCC's defense?

    How would this fly? -
    "We thought it was in the local communities best interest to prohibit them from broadcasting local programming of any kind. We thought it served the local good to only allow national content even if there was a local emergency! We also though that it was in the local communities best interest for there to be only national advertising and to prohibit local advertising of any kind that informs the local consumer and supports local businesses. We also thought that it was in the local communities best interest for these jobs not to be filled by the local community. We didn't want any local talent, personalities, DJ's, or news reporters to be hired for this content either, as it might stimulate the local interest and economy."

    Can anyone help me understand this and/or direct me to the documents that can?
    Last edited by Demian; 10-07-2008 at 08:10 PM.

  3. #3
    Demian is offline
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    I'm still trying to find more info about the legal and regulatory specifics and future possibilities of Sirius/XM being able to offer local content over their local terrestrial repeater network. Im also curious about the regulations and legality of transmitting local content over Sirius/XM's satellites as things stand now as well as how things may be in the future. Are they allowed to broadcast local content and advertising over their satellites, as long as they are broadcasting the same thing nationally? They broadcast all of those major city local traffic and weather stations nationally over the satellites, don't they? Is that why it is allowed? I ask because of this excerpt from the FCC merger approval order....

    "· The Commission reiterated that SDARS licensees are already prohibited, independent of
    the merger, from using terrestrial repeaters to distribute local content—including both
    programming and advertising—that is distinct from that provided to subscribers
    nationwide via satellite."

    So this has me curious about the regulations and legality of broadcasting local content over their satellites. So according to the above statement, as long as the content broadcast over the terrestrial repeaters is not "distinct" from what is broadcast nationally over the satellites, then is it allowed? It seems that it would be, according to the wording. So, as long as the same identical content is broadcast nationally over the satellites, Sirius/XM can broadcast that local content through it's local terrestrial repeaters, right? Siri could start out with a local programming channel for each major metro area and grow from there, as they get more bandwidth and eventually move towards the interoperable radios over a period of time. They should start out with a local programming channel in the biggest metro areas first, like LA, the S.F. Bay Area, Chicago, and New York.....

    I also found this article from 2006, which showed XM's plan for local programming......

    Here is an excerpt.......
    "On May 22, 2006, XM Satellite Radio announced it would abandon its bid to acquire terrestrial Wireless Communications Service (WCS) frequencies due to failure to obtain FCC approval of the purchase. The WCS frequencies offered great promise to XM because the company could have provided broadcast-type local programming to 163 million people in the United States, including those in 15 of the top 20 markets in the country.

    The NAB argued that XM should not be permitted to use the WCS frequencies to provide local radio programming and other specialized services on a market-by-market basis and sell them along with XM's satellite radio service. In its filings the NAB insisted that, before approving the purchase, the FCC must consider the harm that XM could cause to traditional local radio stations. The matter had been pending for more than a year when XM pulled the plug in May.

    The radio industry has fought for years to try to stop XM from adding localized terrestrial radio service to its complement of national satellite channels. Initially, XM sought to construct a network of terrestrial repeaters, ostensibly to fill in reception holes in urban areas. Radio broadcasters fought this plan at the FCC, saying that XM would use the repeaters to offer local programming. Recognizing the harm that an XM local radio service could have on local radio, in 2001 the FCC granted XM special temporary authority for the repeaters with the condition that the temporary facilities be used only for simultaneous retransmission of XM's national satellite programming. With this avenue to local markets cut off, in July 2005, XM applied for FCC consent to acquire the terrestrial WCS frequencies."
    Notice this part -

    "Recognizing the harm that an XM local radio service could have on local radio, in 2001 the FCC granted XM special temporary authority for the repeaters with the condition that the temporary facilities be used only for simultaneous retransmission of XM's national satellite programming."

    Oh, yea, giving local communities more content and choices would cause so much "harm" to local radio.........yea, right. How about the "harm" Clear Channel has done to local radio - owning almost all of the stations in local markets and then abandoning all local content -then letting robots and computers run them? I thought their whole argument was to promote competition? Clear Channel wants to preserve it's destructive monopoly in local radio markets by preventing local communities from having any other choice.

    I wonder if SIRI could win the right to broadcast local content over it's local terrestrial repeaters in court, in the argument of free speech? How about in the argument of antitrust? Last I checked, Clear Channel can broadcast local and national content digitally over HD radio.......oh , yea, I forgot........why would anyone buy an HD radio to listen to their garbage programming?

    Here is an older article from the Cato Institute that speaks of the NAB's corrupt motives and heavy lobby power in regards to this issue.

    I guess the NAB and who they lobby don't want local consumers to have any choice in local radio programming......this is America, right?
    Last edited by Demian; 10-07-2008 at 08:43 PM.

  4. #4
    Demian is offline
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    I found this Bill - H.R. 983 which speaks of this issue......

    According to this Government legislation tracking website it was introduced on Feb. 12th, 2007 and hasn't been voted on as of yet......

    Here is an article that posts some of the Q&A when the bill was announced...

    I hope I can get to the bottom of this someday........can anyone help?

  5. #5
    Demian is offline
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    Ok, I know I am having a conversation with myself here, but I just thought of something - thanks to a comment made by Seamless in the SIRI intraday thread. Seamless posted a link to the web traffic numbers for SIRI/XM, and the numbers were huge for online listening. It seems that they could roll out local programming online, with no problem at all. The FCC has no control over online content, so this might be a way to expand subscriptions worldwide - as there are online subsribers globally. Why not have a channel online for each country and then expand from there?

    Just a thought...

  6. #6
    Demian is offline
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    Ok, so I'm still researching this issue and I found a really interesting article that speaks about the terrestrial repeaters and what they might be used for...

    Here are some interesting excerpts...

    "Some repeaters have the potential of more power – a lot more power....some of XM’s terrestrial broadcast capabilities in cities like Boston are as much as 50,000 watts, meaning they could compete with the strongest FM stations and have exponentially more power than a smaller repeater. Thus the concern that has the radio industry up in arms. Under this scenario, the satellite providers are just an FCC ruling away from being competition for the local ad dollar. This would be catastrophic for terrestrial radio, which depends largely on local, not national, revenue to make its profit."

    "...satellite radio wants to get into the local radio business. While XM and Sirius denied it, there is a general feeling among radio broadcasters that they would not be surprised to see their satellite competitors try to win regulatory changes that would allow such competition."

    "The satellite providers are starting to legally provide traffic for major cities, which possibly points towards their interest in providing more local content for their users. The traffic move could also simply be a way to keep their new and existing subscribers from having to flip-flop back to terrestrial radio to get critical traffic information. This is not dissimilar to TV satellite operators. When satellite television was able to provide local channels, new subscribers signed up by the millions. The satellite music companies would likely to see the same kind of bump. They also could sneak in local ads that could potentially generate hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue."

  7. #7
    Newman is offline
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    Just so that you know you are not talking to yourself, I will let you know what I know:

    Initially when the licences were granted, the rules stated that Sirius and XM could not provide locally delivered content. When they started doing the local traffic and news stuff, it was deemed as acceptible as long as they broadcast it nation wide. Of course, due to bandwith issues, they cannot do every city, but they do the largest metropolitan areas.

    As far as local advertising: It has been said that there is a capability to broadcast commercials not from the satellites, but instead from the repeaters. The satellite would send a signal to start a commercial, and the commercial would be different depending on which repeater you were closest to, thus "local" advertising. (of course if you are not near a repeater, you would get a national ad). This has been deemed against the rules by the FCC.

    As far as internet, you are correct that they could theoretically do locally targeted ads via the internet. I just dont know if the marketing is there for that, though it sounds like that could be a big potential step in the future.

  8. #8
    Pinball Wizard is offline
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    As we have seen in the merger, rules can be changed.

    The big problem is that none of the existing receivers can do this so the implementation would take a long time.

    That said, the regionalization (is that a word?) via the internet streams is a great idea.

  9. #9
    Demian is offline
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    All current satellite radios receive terrestrial signals. I was talking about broadcasting local programming through the local terrestrial repeaters - commercials and all. You would not need a new radio for this...

    As far as the internet programming goes, I wasn't thinking so much about ad revenue, but more of a way to drive global subscriptions. Say they expanded their online content to include many different foreign language channels and local programming for different world regions. It could be a one stop shop for global audio content.If they provided local user based content online, I think it might also drive online traffic and subscriptions.

    They should also sell downloads of back episodes on their site., and even iTunes sells back episodes of XM content. Why not sell it yourself, on your own site?

    Anyway, I have yet to see the actual rules that prohibit Sirius/XM from providing local content through it's terrestrial repeaters or it's satellites. I have heard these "rules" referenced, but have yet to find the actual rules - other than the bill I referenced above that has never even been voted on! Why would there be a new bill if there are already rules on this? Even if I do find the actual rules prohibiting this, I wonder if that would hold up in court. If Clear Channel broadcasts local and national content over their national network of terrestrial repeaters, not to mention HD Radio broadcasts, why can't Sirius/XM?
    Last edited by Demian; 10-09-2008 at 03:00 PM.

  10. #10
    Demian is offline
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    Here is a really good article I found from awhile back that speaks of this issue in detail...

    Local Motives
    By Thomas Hazlett

    Early this month, in a seemingly innocuous move, XM Radio offered 15 new satellite radio channels featuring local programming—traffic updates and weather reports. But because FCC rules require XM (and its rival, Sirius) to exclusively provide national programming, each of these local channels is available all across the country. An XM subscriber in Oregon, for example, can learn about a foggy night on the coast of Florida or the traffic en route to O'Hare, just by flipping the dial.
    The launch of the new channels has kicked off a highly charged debate about whether the local content is legal. Traditional broadcasters claim it's not, because the programming targets particular regions. XM and Sirius (which plans similar channels) claim it is, because the programming airs nationwide. So far, the FCC seems to be siding with XM, but the regulatory scuffle points up the pickle that satellite radio is currently in: In order to get permission to exist, XM and Sirius had to swear off local content. But in order to survive, they need to find a legal way to deliver it to subscribers.
    Satellite radio broadcasting was first authorized in 1997, when two licenses were issued to the companies now known as XM and Sirius. Their applications had taken seven years for the Federal Communications Commission to approve, mainly because the National Association of Broadcasters charged that the new service threatened "traditional American values of community cohesion and local identity." (It also threatened revenues. But at the time, the FCC found that traditional radio stations drew 80 percent of their income from local advertising, which suggested that national competition would not be too damaging to existing stations.) The irony, of course, was that just as lobbyists for traditional broadcasters were making arguments about the integrity of regional identity, local stations were airing more and more national programming, and companies like Infinity and Clear Channel were launching their ambitious industry consolidation. But the NAB pressure worked both to delay satellite rivals and to get the FCC to craft license rules that seemed to ensure that satellite service would air only national shows.

    XM and Sirius launched service in late 2001 and early 2002, respectively, and they now serve approximately 1.8 million subscribers. Each system features about 60 channels of music and another 40 of national news, sports, public affairs, and comedy for about $10 to $13 per month. Equipment and installation cost an additional $120-$300. Analysts tout projections of 15 million customers by 2006. But success is by no means certain. Bankruptcy rumors plagued XM in 2002, and Sirius' bondholders were awarded a huge chunk of equity to stave off bankruptcy in 2003.
    And so long as satellite radio omits community news, weather, traffic, and sports, its march to financial success will be uphill. Currently, XM and Sirius subscribers can easily flip back and forth between satellite programming and AM and FM bands. Airing local content would help bring listeners directly to satellite audio when they turn the ignition—no need to scan the AM dial for traffic updates—which would make subscribers feel they were getting more for their money and heighten their loyalty to the service. It would also—as the FCC foresaw—allow satellite radio to tap into local advertising, a potentially fat new revenue stream.
    Airing local programs nationwide is a good start, but it's a remarkably inefficient solution because it soaks up precious channels—and satellite operators are allotted only so much bandwidth (12.5 MHz per operator). There are, after all, about 269 local radio markets. Squeezing an extra 15 or 20 channels onto the available bandwidth is one thing, but providing more slots for local news becomes very expensive very fast.
    What makes these inefficiencies particularly grating, though, is that existing technology and infrastructure would allow scores of cities to enjoy multiple full-time local news channels via satellite. This smarter way to distribute local content on satellite radio would employ the repeater stations already in use. Repeaters are land-based relays that, as the name implies, pull in satellite feeds and (using the identical frequency) retransmit them. This boosts reception for area subscribers who would otherwise hit "dead zones"—tunnels, valleys, office building canyons—where signals fade. But they could also allow programs to be customized, market to market. When boosting a satellite signal, a repeater station could insert, say, a 10-minute local news bulletin into a broadcast airing on one of XM's national news channels. And it could easily supplement the range of national channels already on offer with several local ones.
    The NAB attacks repeaters—even when they're used just to boost signal strength—as "a crutch for a technology that is not up to the task of providing the seamless, mobile coverage promised by proponents." And the trade press has been littered with such ominous headlines as: "NAB Accuses XM of Local Programming Plot." Capitol Hill has been happy to play enforcer. Former House Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., admonished the FCC that regulators must be vigilant in policing rules "intended to prevent companies like XM from offering localized programming like news, weather and traffic in direct competition with small radio broadcasters."
    But in this era of industry consolidation, relatively speaking, there are fewer small, independent broadcasters left to protect. And the FCC's regulations, no matter what their original intent, now serve mainly to spare incumbent broadcasters—tiny or huge—the effort and expense of competing with their satellite rivals.
    The notion that traditional broadcasters deliver idiosyncratic menus closely tailored to local audiences is a quaint one. Nationally syndicated content has become the order of the radio day, and satellite programming is, if anything, less cookie-cutter than its earth-bound analogs. That this debate has been framed along such outmoded lines illustrates how increasingly strained the concept of "local" has become. Regulators lacking spatial skills are charting geographic divides when they should be mapping communities of interest. Satellite radio caters to niche preferences in music or politics by connecting dispersed audiences. The opera buff in Tuscaloosa, left for deaf by "local" radio, connects with her community when tuning to satellite radio's 100 channels. To characterize satellite programs as uniform because they are nationally distributed is absurd. To then mandate that uniformity is worse.
    It's only natural that sky-bound radio competitors want to offer that additional dimension—local news, weather, traffic, and sports—and they should be allowed to use repeaters to do it. Their financial success may depend on it. The earth-bound stations certainly hope that it does. That's why they are pressing so hard to see that they can't.

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