Broadcasters want to free your cellphone’s FM radio

April 25, 2015

Nearly all of the 64 million smartphones sold in the U.S. from January through September 2014 included FM receivers, yet the receivers were activated in only 18% of those devices, according to NAB Labs.

Not surprisingly, FM broadcasters would like to get those radios turned on, reports Kaveh Waddell in National Journal, and they have considered asking the FCC to require that cellphones include radio functionality—citing safety considerations. Wireless service providers have resisted this move, saying that demand for FM radio isn’t there, and not mentioning that free radio could cause people to consume less billable data.

Now, reports Waddell, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives would prohibit the FCC from requiring cellphones to include broadcast radio capabilities. He quotes Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, a cosponsor of the bipartisan bill, as saying, “As more consumers use Internet radio, the bill ensures consumers aren’t locked into outdated technology mandates and can choose how they access local news and music on their mobile device.”

I’m not necessarily in favor of an FCC mandate that cellphones include functional FM radios. But Eshoo’s statement makes no sense. An activated FM receiver on a smartphone does not lock consumers in to old technology. No one is suggesting that the FM capability replace the data capability. And without FM functionality, consumers cannot choose “…how they access local news and music on their mobile device.” They have no choice but to use their provider’s data service.

Given a choice, I’d prefer to buy a phone with the FM radio—especially if it’s so cheap the chip makers can’t be bothered to design it out. Now, I have to carry an iPod Nano along if I want FM.

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