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Should FM be required on your cell phone?

  Should you be required to carry an FM radio? Federal legislation proposed by the U.S. National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is causing an uproar in the electronics industry because it aims to force a significant change in all future cell phones and similar portable devices: They would all be required to include an FM broadcast tuner. In other words, all new cell phones would be required to be able to receive FM broadcasts. And it's not just cell phones: The proposed Federal law would require allsimilar portable electronics, including PDAs, media players, and perhaps wireless digital tablets, to come with built-in FM tuners.
/ Source: TechNewsDaily

 

Should you be required to carry an FM radio?

Federal legislation proposed by the U.S. National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is causing an uproar in the electronics industry because it aims to force a significant change in all future cell phones and similar portable devices: They would all be required to include an FM broadcast tuner. In other words, all new cell phones would be required to be able to receive FM broadcasts. And it's not just cell phones: The proposed Federal law would require 

At first glance this looks like the broadcast industry making a naked grab for market share by forcing all cell phone users to pay for and carry around FM radios.

Part of what fosters that view is that the NAB's partner in this proposal is the RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA, of course, has no connection or specific interest in emergency communications, but it does expect to reap royalty benefits from the increased audience of cell phone users required to carry around FM radios.

Public service and music choices

But that's not how the NAB and RIAA portray it. They claim the reason reason for their proposal is public safety.

In an 

The NAB and RIAA also claim their proposal gives consumers more music choices: Instead of just listening to MP3s and Internet music sources on your portable electronic device, you'd be required to hav all times so you could also listen to music on FM radio. The NAB and RIAA claim it's no big deal for manufacturers to include FM capability into every portable device, a claim 

Good idea?

An FM tuner in a phone or a media player is an interesting idea, so interesting that some manufacturers have for years offered FM tuners on 

(Personal experience: This writer was one of those who bought and still own an iPod with the FM option and also owned an RCA MP3 player with FM built in. It just seemed a good idea. But in truth I've never used the FM much because I already have so many other ways to listen to FM, both at home and in the car, that FM on the MP3 player just seems superfluous.)

So at present the primary proponents of FM tuners on mobile devices are the NAB and RIAA. But this proposal bears close watching by everyone because the proposed legislation put forward by NAB and RIAA would make such devices mandatory. Whatever its public merit, it's what in politi-speak is sometimes termed : writing into law a requirement that will entrench one process or technology at the expense of all others. In this case it amounts to seeking a special monopoly privilege, requiring everyone who buys a portable device to buy an FM tuner whether or not the buyer wants one. It's that aspect of the proposal that has engendered strong opposition from both electronics manufacturers and consumer advocates.

In case of emergency

A relevant and very basic question to ask is if FM radio should be enshrined as a primary source of emergency information. FM broadcasters are primarily music stations with a few specialty stations (mostly small public radio and religious broadcasters) thrown in for variety. In a civil emergency how many of FM music stations would be equipped or even willing to switch over to emergency coverage? If providing emergency information were the true goal then why not AM band instead, where area propagation is better and all stations are already set up for emergency broadcasting? (Part of that answer is that AM-tuner components are much larger than the FM equivalent.) Or what about Weather Band, which is already used daily for emergency-alert information? Is it because AM band and Weather band generate little if any music-royalty revenue? One has to wonder.

The debate on this will play out over the next several months. Stay tuned.