Last August, I read about a push from the National Association of Broadcasters and the RIAA to have Congress mandate FM radios in cell phones and other portable electronics. Earlier this week, I heard a radio spot promoting it again. You can hear that spot at the NAB website.
The commercial promotes www.radiorocksmyphone.com, a site which has details of what is being requested by the NAB and RIAA. The argument for why radio should be mandated in phones focuses on safety and distribution of line-line information. It even recalls 9/11 to illustrate a time when getting information to the masses was needed.
I can easily recall September 11th, 2001 in Illinois. (I was ironically taking a test in U.S. History my junior year of high school.) I remember the Internet being a crawl that day because so many people were online trying to find more news and streaming video was still pushing the limit for data connections. The problem was that everybody wanted more information. No matter how much they had scoured, in order to make sense of what was going on, they always wanted more information – people wanted pictures and video of what was going on. Radio simply wouldn’t have sufficed unless it was the only source. We were people who wanted information though, not those that needed it.
For the NAB and RIAA to pitch the argument altruistically with safety as the only reason is deceptive at best. It’s wrong to omit that they have some irons in the fire. The National Association of Broadcasters would love to get more radios into the hands of people in all places instead of just in the car while driving, the place I think most people listen to the radio. The more potential listeners that are out there, the larger listener number they can pitch to advertisers. The RIAA has a similar claim. The more listeners there are, the more they can charge radio stations for broadcasting their songs. Text messaging blasts have also become a lot more common in different organizations. Though it relies on cell phone networks and towers to be up, I think cell service providers would rise to the call to get information out in a time of crisis.
I’m not opposed to radio being in phones. Personally, I think it would be a nice feature to have since there are apps that stream online radio stations at the cost and limitations of data plans/connections. However, I am opposed to radios being mandated in phones. With a feature like this, I think it would be best for the market to decide. Make a phone that includes an FM radio and if it flies off the shelves, consumers want it. If not, they don’t. Manufacturers have options, I think they do their homework to see what people wants because it is rewarding to their sales numbers. The RadioRocksMyPhone.com site lists some phones that are already radio-ready but even some of the phones that they list don’t advertise the fact that they have an FM radio included in them.
Where does the argument stand? – It’s hard to tell. NAB seems to be making a hard push for it with local stations airing the previously mentioned commercial and special events to highlight the issue. They also ask you to write your Representative and Senator but after talking out the issue, I’m not certain I would be writing my legislators to ask them to have the FCC mandate radios. The request for radio-ready cell phones has been standing since at least September 2009 (.pdf) and just last month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski addressed the broadcasting industry (.pdf) at the NAB show. He didn’t specifically mention radio-ready cell phones but he does discuss spectrum limits and the accelerating demands of the mobile market. Radio-ready cell phones could have a pro argument for them that shifting people from using radio apps that stream over 3G/4G to already there FM radio, it would reduce demand on the mobile networks. I, however, would be much more interested in having the mobile DTV he mentions accessible by my phone.
So there’s the argument: Should cell phones be mandated to include FM radio in them? All I’ll say is that I don’t think it is as black and white as the NAB and RIAA are lobbying it to be. I think each individual will have to decide their opinion on it.