McDowell: Sat radio merger 'intriguing'

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NEW YORK -- The FCC's Robert McDowell in a rare media investor conference appearance Tuesday said that a satellite radio merger could be "an intriguing idea" to look at and signaled that he feels no need for his regulatory agency to mandate a la carte content offerings.

Addressing a room packed with Wall Street folks, McDowell said "the core mission of the FCC is to promote freedom" of consumers and entrepreneurs. The agency's main goals must be to enable free markets and free ideas and remove barriers to entry with any government measures to address market failures having to be narrowly tailored, he added.

Asked about a potential merger of XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio and whether it would abolish competition, McDowell said it is an "intriguing idea" and that he'd "be happy to look at it."

Asked about a much-suggested merger of satellite TV giants DirecTV Group and EchoStar Communication, he referred only to recent comments made by FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who had said he hasn't seen enough evidence to justify a satellite merger.

Questioned about his stance on the a la carte content debate, in which Martin has shown an interest, McDowell said, "We already live in an a la carte world." Pointing to his children's habit of watching content whenever and wherever they want, he said that companies that don't react to changed consumer behavior will suffer the consequences in the marketplace.

Asked about media ownership rules, the commissioner said he sees a need for change, joking that "I have a hunch it is no longer 1975."

McDowell also said the need of new rules to balance a changed media landscape with old values of competition, diversity and localism is a "difficult" undertaking, but he expressed optimism that the regulatory agency will find a solution based on "a reasoned approach."

McDowell on Tuesday also called Net neutrality a "Rorschach term" that is "ill defined," saying he feels the FCC should only rule on the issue if someone brings evidence of a well-defined market failure.
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