As the entertainment industries move from an analog to a digital world, traditional media outlets continue to scramble to regain lost revenues. A perfect case in point are radio stations, who run the risk of losing listeners due to rising sales of both MP3 players and smartphones, which are becoming miniature home theaters. Some portable devices currently integrate FM radios, but if the National Association of Broadcasters has any say in the matter, it could become a legal mandate to include FM radios in all future cell-phones.
Several sides to this argument jump out at me. For one, I doubt handset makers want to be told by the U.S. government what hardware features they must require in every device. From the NAB’s point of view, adding FM radios to every new phone could help offset the risk of lost listeners because consumers might actually tune in to radio again. Based on potential listener growth, the radio industry is willing to pay a tiered royalty rate of up to 1 percent of total revenues in return for the FM radio mandate. Another great point is brought up at Gotta Be Mobile: in times of emergency or widespread power outages, FM radio holds up better and can broadcast farther than cellular networks when it comes to getting information to the masses.
Although emergency situations are a good reason to have an FM radio handy, I’m inclined to side with Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, who says, “We don’t think Congress should accept a back-room deal on how an iPhone should be designed.” I might feel differently if I didn’t have an emergency radio, but a few years ago I purchased a unit from Eton that supports multiple radio bands, has an emergency light and can be hand-cranked for power.
Even if I didn’t have my backup radio, I’m not sold on government-legislated hardware features in phones, although if such a law does pass, I’d like to see it require an HD Radio tuner, like that in Microsoft’s Zune HD. Such tuners pull in high quality digital audio in addition to regular FM radio broadcasts, offering a great end-user experience. If we have to have the FM radio, we might as well enjoy it.
The arguments for and against legislating hardware features are complex — and it ultimately has to do with lobbying efforts and money — but let’s keep it simple with a poll before the weekend:
Should FM radios be required in cell-phones or should the government simply tune-out of this argument?
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