FCC edges toward XM-Sirius deal decision

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission is moving closer to a decision on whether to approve Sirius Satellite Radio Inc's SIRI.O plan to acquire rival XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc XMSR.O, the agency's chairman said on Thursday.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he had asked the agency’s staff to put together draft documents outlining different possible decisions the agency might reach on the merger.

“I have asked the staff, after we’ve gotten all the final information that we needed, to be doing drafts, and when there were issues outstanding to do a range of options for us,” Martin said during a press briefing.

However, Martin said he still had not made up his mind on whether he would back approval of the deal. He said he did not expect the FCC to reach a decision before antitrust authorities at the Justice Department.

“I haven’t decided what I’m going to end up doing on it. I think that (FCC staff) will have various cuts and options as a part of it, but I haven’t decided yet.”

Representatives of Sirius and XM declined to comment.

The deal, announced on February 19, 2007, requires the approval of both the Justice Department and the FCC.

It would bring entertainers such as Oprah Winfrey and shock-jock Howard Stern under one roof. A key antitrust issue in the case is whether the combined satellite radio company would still face enough competition from free, over-the-air radio and new technologies.

The traditional radio industry, as well as some consumer groups and U.S. lawmakers, have criticized the deal as anti-competitive. But the satellite radio companies argue that they face plenty of competition from traditional radio stations and from the growing popularity of iPods and other personal audio players.

The FCC is studying whether the deal would be in the public interest -- and whether to enforce a 1997 FCC order prohibiting the two companies from merging.

Reporting by Peter Kaplan; Editing by Tim Dobbyn