Monday, March 24, 2008

Who needs competition?

I am conflicted ---

The U.S. Department of Justice today approved a $5 billion buyout of XM Radio by its competitor, Sirius Radio. Approval by the Federal Communications Commission seems imminent.

As a long-time subscriber to XM satellite radio, I have come to rely upon ready access to music of the 1940s and ‘50s, the in-depth governmental coverage of C-SPAN Radio, wall-to-wall classical music, occasional forays into Bluegrass, periodic visits from talk-show host Dave Ramsey, and a fresh perspective on international news from the BBC World Service.

I couldn’t care less about most of the 100+ other channel offerings. So when Sirius and XM said that, if they’re allowed to join forces, they’ll start offering program channels a la carte, I was excited. This “unbundling” concept is one that many subscribers would love to see implemented by cable television companies, and one promoted strongly by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Imagine paying only for the channels you really want! If we believe Sirius and XM, that may soon happen with their surviving radio services.

I fear the cost may be more than I hoped – much more.

For the past year, I’ve had a gnawing discomfort about this “merger,” but my fears subsided when I considered the possibility of paying less for fewer channels. Today, when I read about DOJ approval in the New York Times, I Googled the topic and found an archived story on the Sirius-XM deal by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post. Now I feel worse.

My hopes of keeping only the satellite channels I want – and paying less than my current $13 a month – now seem uncertain. Fisher, in his piece written last year, asked more than rhetorically, Can you name one example of a new consumer technology that was guaranteed to a single provider and still served customers well? (Don’t everyone say 'cable TV' at once.)"

Having now read his full article, my discomfort grows, and my shot at frugality seems to have been dashed.

I am conflicted and won’t know the final outcome until I get that note in the mail many months from now, from the satellite radio entity left standing, telling me about all of the wonderful new benefits of yet another media consolidation.


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