Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

The Battle To Make Satellite Radio Local

from the what's-the-problem-here? dept

An interesting look at how XM and Sirius - the two satellite radio companies - are offering "local" radio programming, by offering it nationally. It turns out that when the two satellite radio companies started up, people were afraid that they would harm local independent radio stations. So, as part of the agreement to give them spectrum, they were told they could only broadcast nationally. However, when people hop into their cars and head to work in the morning - they want local news, traffic and weather info. So, to get around this policy, both satellite systems are experimenting with local news - but broadcasting it nationally. In other words, even if you're in New York you could tune into the local San Francisco news. While this might be somewhat cool if you happen to be interested in the local traffic/weather/news somewhere else in the world, it's a complete waste of resources. The original reason for the rule makes less and less sense as most "local" radio stations are just playing nationally syndicated content from Clear Channel anyway. It certainly seems like a set of rules that are simply designed to keep away competition, rather than encourage it.

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  1. identicon
    Rob Henderson, 17 Mar 2004 @ 5:46am

    Point sources

    Before you go too far afield on the 'regulatory' requirement for nationwide broadcast, consider the technical side.
    Local broadcasts are exactly that; transmissions from a local tower with maybe a 50 mile range. Each tower can transmit a unique signal targeted at it's locale.
    Satellite radio signals are transmitted from geostationary satellites (XM has 2, Sirius has 3), each with a reception area over 2000 miles across. Yes, it is possible to have a single satellite broadcast different signals focused on different areas within its view, but it's not easy. You might be able to shoot separate signals on the same channel to Virginia and New York, but you won't be able to separate New York from New Jersey. Even with separate 'lobes' focused on different areas, you then have interference patterns at the boundary which must be dealt with somehow.
    Provided XM and Sirius have the bandwidth available, it is probably much easier for them to consume a few extra channels to broadcals a few 'regional' channels (maybe New York, Chicago, Dallas, LA) to everyone.
    The alternative is for a button on my XM faceplate which tunes in my favorite local FM station.

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