Broadcasters step up FM-tuner-mandate campaign
Radio broadcasters aren't giving up on their quixotic quest to require that future cell phones include FM tuners--part of a grand bargain in which radio stations would agree to pay the same "performance royalties" to musicians that Web and satellite radio stations already hand over.
This morning, the National Association of Broadcasters released a survey it commissioned from Harris Interactive that--shockingly enough--found that large majorities of phone users would like radio reception built into their phones:
* Three-quarters (76 percent) of cell phone owners would consider paying a one-time fee of 30 cents to access local radio stations through a built-in radio chip.
* Local weather and music are the top reasons they would listen to their local stations on their cell phones.
* Seventy-three percent of cell phone owners indicated that having a radio built into their cell phone capable of providing local weather and emergency alerts in real-time would be "very" or "somewhat" important.
The online survey (PDF) also found that 61 percent of Americans didn't know they could buy a phone with an FM radio in the first place.
In today's release and in earlier arguments--see, for example, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton's lengthy blog post from late August--the broadcasters make two arguments.
The more serious one is a public-safety defense: People need a way to know when some crisis is happening near them.
But there's already a standard in the works, a text-messaging alert system mandated by Congress in a 2008 law that would send alerts to phone users in affected areas. The NAB has a right to criticize the pokey deployment of this; the first large-scale test won't happen until this fall and the full system won't be up until 2012 (PDF). But text messages work with almost all existing hardware and don't require users to turn on some other feature on the phone to get the update (Wharton wrote in an e-mail that engineers were studying ways to wake up a phone's FM tuner remotely).
The NAB's public-safety argument would look stronger were it arguing for mandatory radio tuners in cars: A driver shouldn't be looking at text messages but will probably have a radio on if it's already ensconced in the dashboard. But the market has long since seen fit to put AM and FM tuners in every automobile.
The second part of the NAB's argument boils down to "give the people what they want." But why is it the government's job to mandate nice-to-have features in new products? The Consumer Electronics Association--shockingly enough--made that point in a statement released today, asking "do consumers really want the government to design their phones and require features?"
If, however, the folks at the NAB are going to get into the field of cell-phone design, they might as well be comprehensive about it. I hope that future NAB polls will solicit opinions on such topics as the price of text messages, Apple's control of the iPhone App Store, or the weird way a phone's battery drain accelerates once you're down to the last quarter of a charge.
Wireless manufacturers and carriers, in turn, can return the favor by commissioning surveys on such radio issues as the repetitive commercials that clutter too many sports broadcasts, the failure of local rock stations to play the work of such local rock bands as the (newly reunited) Dismemberment Plan, or why radio newscasters sound so gosh-darn peppy no matter how early the hour.
September 14, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories: Mobile , Music , Policy and politics
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