Canada groups try to block Sirius, XM

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[Montreal] Canadian coalitions are trying to block U.S. satellite-radio groups Sirius and XM from entering Canada although they have been granted two of the country's three licenses to launch subscription radio. Canada's traditional broadcasters and cultural groups are filing appeals asking the federal government to set aside two licenses granted by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. They went to Sirius Canada, a partnership of U.S. company Sirius Satellite Radio with the CBC and Standard Radio, and Canadian Satellite Radio, a joint-venture between U.S. company XM Satellite Radio Holdings and John Bitove, a Canadian who is chairman of Prizm Brands, operator of hundreds of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants in Canada. The protesters allege that the licensing of U.S.-backed satellite services is inconsistent with Canada's broadcasting policy, including Canadian ownership and control, programming that reflects Canada's multiracial and multilingual population, and a significant level of Canadian-produced content. The licensees do have to meet a number of conditions: at least eight original Canada-produced channels, at least 25% of the Canadian channels must be in French and a maximum of nine foreign channels for each Canadian channel. Ads are limited to six minutes per hour.

XM's Mr. Bitove has complained that the third, all-Canadian licensee, CHUM/Astral, is trying to get a monopoly in the new pay radio business. Sirius isn't saying much. "We're fully funded, and from a technology point, we're ready to go before year end," said President Kevin Shea.

It would be extremely rare, although not unprecedented, for Canada's government to ask the autonomous license-granting commission to reconsider.

"The arguments have already been considered and the government ... knows Canadians could get satellite radio already operating from the U.S.," said Christopher Johnson, a legal expert at Johnson & Buchan, Ottawa. "But politics between ministers can play a role. It's a bit of a crapshoot."

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