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CEA To FCC: Support Sat Radio’s Weather Stations

6/08/2004 10:13:00 AM Eastern

Arlington, Va. — CEA defended satellite radio providers by asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support satellite radio’s new local traffic and weather stations, despite objections over the service from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

CEA sent a letter on June 4 to the FCC protesting the NAB’s efforts to stop satellite radio from offering traffic and weather services through a Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed with the FCC on April 14. NAB’s Petition alleged that that both XM and Sirius violated FCC regulations by offering local content in its programming.

The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA), XM and Sirius also filed formal responses to the Petition. XM claims that 25,000 of its subscribers also objected to the NAB’s petition through XM’s grassroots web site.

In February, Sirius began broadcasting local traffic and weather in 20 markets on 10 national stations, calling its service Sirius First Traffic. During the same month, XM launched its XM Instant Traffic and Weather service for 21 markets, also on national stations (so anyone can tune to the local traffic and weather for Houston, for example, even if they are in New York). XM claims that as long as it does not offer Houston weather for Houston only, then it is not in violation of the FCC ruling.

The NAB did not return phone calls; however, its petition (IB Docket No. 95-91) calls the traffic and weather services a "foray into local content," which is "directly contrary to the SDARS licensees’ repeated and express promises that satellite radio service would be limited to delivering national programming."

A spokeswoman for the FCC said, "The commentary on the petition closed on Friday. At this point the bureau has the comments, they will begin to review them, and at some point they will make a decision. But at this point there’s no set time frame for that.

CEA VP Technology Policy Michael Petricone said, "NAB, through its spurious petition, is asking the Commission to stifle innovation by restricting the types of services that satellite radio providers can offer. CEA maintains that NAB’s arguments merely serve the economic interests of some terrestrial broadcasters, to the detriment of satellite radio listeners nationwide."

XM said, "Our position remains the same. We’ve complied with all the FCC regulations, and the FCC, in several public forums, has indicated that our traffic and weather doesn’t violate any rules. The main rule," said an XM spokesman, "is that all [satellite radio] programming goes through the satellite" versus a terrestrial repeater, which could broadcast local content to specific local regions. "So, this is really an effort by the NAB to harass XM and Sirius and create a false impression that there is something wrong here."

A current bill in the House of Representative seeks to ensure that XM and Sirius do not offer local content via repeaters in the future. Bill HR 4026 was introduced by Representatives Charles "Chip" Pickering (R-Miss.) and Gene Green (D-Tex.). It calls for the FCC to study the impact of satellite radio providing traffic and weather, which is now being done. The bill also "codifies an agreement that the satellite radio and local broadcasters made when satellite radio providers got their licenses — that the companies would not use terrestrial repeaters to change the content to broadcast local traffic and weather," said a Pickering spokesman.

The bill was introduced on March 24 and on March 30 was referred to the House subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.