think tank

It's about XM, money, and nothing's sacred

If you don't believe in worm holes or parallel universes, then you weren't in hearing room 2141 in the Rayburn Building on Wednesday. I kept waiting for Scotty to beam me up, or wondering when I was going to disappear in a swirl of paper like Harry Tuttle, heating engineer.

I realize that politics makes strange bedfellows, but here was David Rehr, chief of the National Association of Broadcasters, and Mark Cooper, the Consumer Federation of America's chief researcher, on the same side. What's more, they were fighting Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin, who had found an ally in Public Knowledge's Gigi Sohn.

It was eerie seeing these lions and lambs lying there together in front of God, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and everybody. I kept looking for the bumper sticker declaring the hearing room to be unoccupied in case of rapture.

I wasn't the only person who noticed, as a broadcast industry executive leaned over to me and whispered: "It's good to be on the side of the angels for once." Well, I'm not sure where the angels are, but in the battle broadcasters are waging against Sirius' $4.8 billion attempt to buy XM, no one is holy.

Everyone involved in these big mergers likes to talk about how much good their particular deal is for consumers, but we all know that's a bunch of crap. You know who these deals are good for? The money men. Whenever someone like Karmazin or Rehr starts talking about the "good" they're doing for the consumer, the consumer better button up his/her wallet.

They prance like dancing dogs in front of the lawmakers, trying to out-sincere each other. Why can't they be honest? What they want is money. The consumer is just a convenient pigeon.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. This is a capitalist country, after all. It gets sickening to hear them act like their businesses are the Red Cross or Salvation Army.

I love XM. On a family trip to my hometown, my wife and I realized we forgot the XM unit. We were nearly all the way around the Beltway when we turned back. The detour added at least an hour to a 13-hour drive. But we'd rather have added the time than face a day on I-85 without it.

I also love broadcasting. The entire history of what is a vast American technological achievement is underappreciated. I took my college receiver out of the attic the other day. It still works. I can't say that about a 5-year-old computer. Oh yeah, the programming is free.

Karmazin says he won't raise the price of the XM service for some time. He wouldn't commit to how long, despite prodding from lawmakers. Why? Because as a good capitalist, he wants that period to be as short as possible.

He claims that the "synergies" created by the deal will keep prices down. I'm not sure what a synergy is. Every time a merger goes through, it seems to me the synergies come in a flurry of pink slips.

I thought about that as I rode the Metro into work last week. I could see the XM building as the train pulled into the New York Avenue stop. It's a new stop. An agreement to build the stop was one of the reasons XM built its facility in an old warehouse in the District. That was a good thing.

I wonder about the people there. How many will still be getting on and off here if the deal goes through? Will my favorite deejays still be on the air? Or will they end up dispersed by the wind like my old friend Harry?