In a few years, if federal regulators don’t mess it up, the wireless, ubiquitous, high-speed Internet will be a reality, which means that we’ll no longer be dependent on the likes of Mel Karmazin to bring us audio programming that’s more daring than commercial broadcast radio. It will be like podcasting, except that you’ll be able to get it when you want, where you want — in your car, on your cell phone, whatever.
Besides, news reports of the proposed merger, including this one in the New York Times, make it clear that FCC approval for the XM-Sirius merger is no sure thing.
Still, there’s one aspect to this that bugs me. The reason that an XM-Sirius merger sounds at least mildly attractive is that the two services are technologically incompatible. If you want to listen to Howard Stern on Sirius and Bob Dylan on XM, you don’t just have to pay two bills a month — you also need two separate radios. That’s ridiculous, and I’m sure it explains why there are still only 14 million satellite radio subscribers. (Media Nation subscribes to neither service, choosing instead to scour the Internet for MP3s of Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio Hour.”)
FCC officials can’t know whether satellite competition would work because no one has ever tried it. If XM and Sirius had to go head to head using the same technology, rather than existing in their own separate universes, consumers might benefit even as the two services save costs. That ought to be the direction in which the FCC encourages them to move.