Legislators over the weekend introduced new legislation requiring satellite radio receivers to pick up digital signals, even though federal regulators are still seeking public comment on the issue.
House Representative Ed Markey, D-Mass., on Saturday introduced the Radio All Digital Channel Receiver Act, which requires equipment designed to receive both satellite digital audio radio and terrestrial AM/FM radio to be equipped to receive digital radio signals transmitted by terrestrial AM/FM stations.
"Millions of Americans today rely on local broadcast radio for news, public safety bulletins, sports, weather, traffic, and other information," Markey said in a press release. "As the broadcast radio industry migrates to digital broadcasting technology, this legislation will ensure that consumers are able to readily receive free service through consumer electronics systems that are otherwise receiving satellite digital audio radio and traditional AM or FM stations."
The responsibility for overseeing this new regulation would fall to the Federal Communications Commission, which would be required to act on the legislation within 180 days of its passage. The FCC, however, is still receiving public comments on the merits of this issue.
The FCC committed itself to exploring the possibility of requiring satellite radio to include digital audio broadcast when it approved the merger of Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio in July. It released a Notice of Inquiry (PDF) on the subject in late August, for which the comment deadline is November 10. The inquiry seeks answers to questions such as how many multifunctional radio receivers may be available in the near future without it being mandatory.
Markey's legislation so far appears to be garnering bipartisan support, with co-sponsors like Lee Terry, R-Neb., Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, and Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
Markey said his bill would help ensure the long-term competitive health of local radio, since the XM-Sirius merger "underscored the importance of ensuring consumer access to a diversity of sources for digital radio content, in particular content originating in their local communities."