Copps: Deals facing 'steep climb' at FCC

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WASHINGTON -- FCC commissioner Michael Copps on Thursday expressed doubts about letting two of the biggest media deals pending get by the agency with a rubber stamp. He told reporters that Sirius Satellite Radio's purchase of rival XM and the leveraged buyout of Tribune need special scrutiny.

Copps, the panel's senior Democrat, said it would be "a steep climb" for him to cast a vote to approve either deal because he has serious concerns about consolidation in the U.S. media.

"Somebody's going to have to make a pretty powerful and potent demonstration that it serves the public interest," Copps said, referring to the XM-Sirius deal.

Sirius plans to buy out its only competitor, XM, in an all-stock deal worth about $4 billion. Consumer groups and the broadcast industry are fighting the deal.

With regard to Tribune, Copps said that he didn't think approvals for the waivers the company holds -- allowing it to own both a daily newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same market -- should get automatic approval.

Although FCC rules prohibit a single company from owning both a daily newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same market, Tribune and some other companies won cross-ownership waivers or were "grandfathered" in before the rule was instituted.

"I think everybody understands that the Tribune thing would be a steep climb for me given my history on consolidation," Copps said.

Copps has long been a champion of a more diverse media marketplace. He voted against rules that would have allowed media companies to own more properties in local markets. The rules were struck down by the courts, and the commission is trying to decide how it can redo them.

Commission aides have said that FCC chairman Kevin Martin wants to vote on the new rules early next year. Copps contends that that might be too fast and wondered whether companies should be allowed to hold long-term waivers as they tried to gut the rules.

"I do not buy into the argument that, well, because you might be considering rule changes, you can't apply the current rules to current pending applications," Copps said.
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