As the FCC’s 180-day “clock” on the Sirius-XM merger began to tick last week, Thomas Hazlett, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a former chief economist at the FCC, released a study showing that the $13 billion merger would enhance competition in the U.S. audio services market. Entitled The Economics of the Satellite Radio Merger, the study was prepared at the behest of XM and Sirius and submitted to the FCC as part of the companies’ pending merger application. (A public notice seeking comment on the application and starting the FCC’s 180-day clock on a decision regarding the transaction was released last week.) Supporting the companies’ claims that a merger is needed for satellite radio to compete effectively against intermodal rivals such as terrestrial radio broadcasters and Internet radio services, the study says that opposition to the merger within the broadcast radio industry provides evidence that free AM and FM radio services compete directly against satellite radio. The study further concludes that, in terms of market shares, free broadcast radio services far outrank satellite radio, as total satellite radio industry revenues in 2006 accounted for less than 7% of radio broadcasting revenues. (When iPods, Internet radio and other digital media are factored in, satellite radio’s share of total revenues encompassing the audio services market falls to 4%.) By combining two of the smaller players in the U.S. audio services market, Hazlett asserts that the merger of XM and Sirius “will bring economic vitality to satellite radio,” which, in turn, “will sustain a wide range of valuable customer options and spawn new services and products.” Hazlett’s findings, however, were not enough to satisfy 72 members of Congress who signed a letter on Monday urging the FCC, the Justice Department and the FTC to deny the transaction. Signatories to the letter included 47 House Democrats and 25 Republicans. Charging, “the marriage of the only competitors in the satellite radio market would create a monopoly,” the lawmakers stated: “the FCC has never before allowed the only two competitors in a given market to combine, and we would seriously question an FCC decision to start now.”