Sirius XM protests FCC broadband proposal


The FCC plan to expand wireless Internet access is getting the attention of Sirius XM lawyers, concerned the effort to end a 13-year fight may interfere with satellite-radio programming. The Commission is proposing to make it easier for the winners of a 1997 airwaves auction to use those airwaves for mobile wireless Internet and phone use.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal in May as part of a broader effort to devote more airwaves for wireless Internet services. Sirius XM lawyers are fighting the plan, arguing in a filing last month that allowing wireless providers to use those airwaves for wireless broadband will “fail to protect satellite radio’s nearly 19 million subscribers and 35 million listeners from harmful interference,” reported WSJ. What they’re talking about, of course is the Sirius XM’s terrestrial repeaters – often necessary for reception in urban areas, rugged terrain and many homes.

Sirius XM is concerned those ground-based broadcast signals could be overpowered by wireless devices using nearby airwaves on the spectrum.

AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Comcast are among the licensees of that spectrum but they have made limited use of them over the years, as the dispute between the auction winners and satellite-radio providers dragged on. AT&T says it now mostly uses those airwaves to beam data point-to-point as part of its network backbone. That spectrum was originally designated to be used for fixed wireless—transmissions beamed tightly between two towers—but more capacity is now needed for mobile wireless broadband, prompting the FCC to propose the changes.

FCC engineers say there shouldn’t be interference problems because of restrictions they’ll put on the wireless companies, including a buffer between the two services and power limits. The Commission is expected to impose rules that would require the companies to either build out networks using those airwaves or automatically lose them in a few years.

“We think they’re offering Sirius XM far more protection than they’re entitled to,” Paul Sinderbrand, a Wilkinson Barker Knauer attorney representing companies that hold the spectrum, told WSJ. “That said, we think we can live with most of the proposal.”

Sirius XM’s Howard Stern has voiced his concerns and Sirius subscribers and fans have flooded the FCC with complaints, many accusing the FCC of having it out for the company. The Commish took more than a year to consider Sirius’s merger with XM Satellite Radio before approving it in July 2008.

Carmakers, including Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers have also commented, warning about interference problems for drivers with satellite radios.

RBR-TVBR observation: We have written numerous times how many of Sirius XM’s terrestrial repeaters are way over-powered and not in locations they were licensed to be (the NAB has chimed in on this, too), so perhaps there is some poetic justice/payback here. But the real fear for Sirius XM is that with more mobile broadband spectrum may come lower rates. We all know how easy it is to stream internet radio over, say, an iPhone to your car radio via Bluetooth. While the broadband plans do cost money, listening to a menu of thousands of internet formats and streaming radio stations does not add to the bill. While Sirius XM also streams, that pesky subscription bill is part of the package.