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Top Democrats Want Sirius Conditions on XM Meld

The heads of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and its Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee called on Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin to put conditions on the merger of XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio if the commission votes to approve it, including allowing outside companies to make receivers that also receive competitive services like HD radio, the Internet and iPod-docking stations.

House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Telecommunications Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called for price caps on service similar to ones already volunteered by the satellite companies, as well the requirement that the platform be open to outside manufacturers that want to develop receivers that work with the radio service, taking a page from the open Internet issue the committee is also concerned with.

"It would be contrary to the public interest, for example, to permit the merged company to bar HD-radio chips or iPod compatibility," they argued.

The legislators said they were not taking a position on whether to approve the merger or not.

The Justice Department weighed in during March, saying that it had no antitrust reasons to block the merger. According to sources, Martin has yet to circulate a draft decision to the other commissioners, so don't look for any decision in the next few days.

XM and Sirius had been facing a May 1 trigger to unwind the deal absent government approval, but they extended that date by two weeks and will continue to extend it as needed unless one or the other decides to throw in the towel.

An XM/Sirius spokesperson had no comment about the letter or its suggestion of ubiquitous receivers from outside manufacturers.

"Combined, an XM-Sirius monopoly would control more spectrum than is currently used by the entire FM radio broadcast business," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "NAB continues to agree with more than 80 members of Congress, 12 state attorneys general and a variety of consumer groups who are on record opposing the monopoly merger of XM and Sirius."