Tech Industry Ramps Up FM Chip Opposition

Putting an FM receiver in cell phones and other mobile devices has suddenly become a hot potato on Capitol Hill. A coalition of six technology industry associations Monday (Aug. 23) dispatched letters to the chairmen and ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees urging them not to craft legislation that would mandate FM receivers in mobile devices.

The idea to mandate FM receivers in mobile devices came about as part of a compromise between the National Association of Broadcasters and the Recording Industry Association of America, the opponents and proponents of instituting performance royalties on music airplay. Persuading Congress to mandate FM tuners in cell phones would give both radio stations and music artists’ access to larger audiences, and consumers another mobile choice.

The technology industry isn’t happy about being put in the middle.

“Calls for an FM chip mandate are not about public safety but are instead about propping up a business which consumers are abandoning as they avail themselves of new, more consumer-friendly options,” the associations wrote. “It is simply wrong for two entrenched industries to resolve their differences by Agreeing to burden a third industry—which has no relationship to or other interest in the performance royalty dispute—with a costly, ill-considered and unnecessary new mandate.”

In the letter, the six associations, CTIA-The Wireless Association, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, the Rural Cellular Association, TechAmerica, and the Telecommunications Industry Association, argued such a mandate would be bad policy because it would lead to higher prices for consumers. They also argued that FM tuners were unnecessary for emergencies since the government was developing a mobile broadcast emergency alerting system.

Taking issue with the technology groups’ claim that FM tuners would be an unwanted feature in cell phones, the National Association of Broadcasters countered that the feature was increasingly popular with consumers around the globe and would provide a reliable service during emergencies.

“Countries around the globe have added radio-enabled cell phones that are increasingly popular with consumers. The reality is that 239 million Americans tune in to free and local radio every week, and seven million new radio listeners were added just last year,” said Dennis Wharton, evp of the NAB. “Day in and day out, local radio stations serve as a reliable lifeline in times of crisis and weather emergencies. In an increasingly mobile society, it would be unfortunate if telco gatekeepers blocked access to public safety information offered by free and local radio.”