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The Debate About FM Goes On and On

4-25-2012
 
Getting an easy-to-use FM chip into every cell phone sold has become a major issue for the radio industry. Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan has spearheaded the effort, however the NAB is also heavily involved, and iBiquity just became part of the push last week when it unveiled an HD chip in Las Vegas. After an attempt to have the chip mandated was thwarted, broadcasters are now using community safety as their number-one selling proposition. Not everyone's buying the safety pitch

On Tuesday, the issue made it to Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness. Smulyan was joined by NAB CEO Gordon Smith, Clear Channel's Jeff Littlejohn, and others representing broadcasters. AT&T and Verizon were invited but didn't show. Representatives from the International Association for the Wireless Industry (also known as the CTIA) were at the meeting, perhaps only to make sure the word "mandate" didn't pop up again. Jot Carpenter (pictured) is the organization's Vice President of Governmental Affairs. We spoke to Carpenter about the meeting and it's his opinion this has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with broadcasters wanting a free ride into the smartphone.

LISTEN TO OUR INTERVIEW WITH CARPENTER HERE
 
Carpenter says if broadcasters can get the chip into the phone, they wouldn't have to pay streaming fees because the chip delivers the over-the-air product, therefore eliminating the streaming cost. He was also less than impressed with the rollout last week of the new HD chip by iBiquity and Intel. "I chuckled when I saw that. I don't know a soul who has HD. That was just an attempt to jump start the FM chip business which has not taken off." Carpenter also says those phones that already have the chips are not really being activated all that much.
 
Both Smulyan and the NAB say the meeting was positive, and Smulyan believes the issue is going to get some traction – perhaps additional meetings with lawmakers. Bilirakis has not taken a position on whether the FM chips should be installed in cell phones. He said, “The best ideas and innovation come from the private sector, not the federal government. The telecommunications sector – from television, to radio, to the wireless phone industry – offered valuable insight and suggestions today for Congress to consider.”
 
There are some phones now on the market with chips already installed, but they are not widely known brands like the iPhone, mostly because it appears AT&T and Verizon have very little interest in the chip. The reality is there has been very little consumer outcry for the FM chip, perhaps because an emergency hasn't hit them yet. Perhaps it's because they have so many apps on their phones already they figure they have what they need. Or maybe the radio industry needs to figure out a way to organize and educate the public on why they might need it.


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