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How Many FM-Equipped Cell Phones Are There, Really?

NAB questions CTIA’s figures; CTIA says ‘to the extent’ consumers want the feature, ‘the wireless industry will deliver’

Days before a meeting at the FCC is to take place over the issue of embedding FM chips in cellphones, NAB and its counterpart for the wireless industry, CTIA, are not on the same page.

The broadcast trade group is trying to determine exactly how many cellphones and other mobile devices on the market now in the U.S. contain working FM chips.

In a letter to Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, NAB EVP/General Counsel Jane Mago writes that the broadcast trade association suggests both work together to get an accurate count. The figures cited by CTIA during the recent House subcommittee hearing on the future of audio don’t add up, she writes.

CTIA cited 59 total cellphones containing working FM chips, with 29 of those in the Best Buy circular for the month of June.

However NAB believes there are far fewer. Its technology department staff combed through catalogs, navigated wireless company websites and called wireless companies. Its research indicates 12 of the 26 mobile devices in the June Best Buy guide do not contain working FM chips, including all of the devices offered by Samsung, Virgin Mobile, Cricket and MetroPCS, wrote Mago.

The research also calls into question that 59 total cellphones sold in the U.S. have activated FM chips, according to the broadcast lobbying group.

NAB wants to correct the information given to the subcommittee. “It’s important that members of Congress, including Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who specifically relied on CTIA’s data to conclude that market forces have met consumer demand for radio-enabled devices — are provided accurate information to reach well-founded decisions,” Mago wrote.

During that hearing Emmis Communications President/CEO and Board Chair Jeff Smulyan said it’s hard for consumers to determine if a cellphone has a working FM chip in the device, because often manufacturers and providers don’t mention the feature in their product literature or advertising. Given that, it’s no wonder even CTIA may be fuzzy on its figures, Mago added.

NAB is encouraged, however, by the “modest progress” made to provide consumers more options for radio-enabled mobile devices. Citing research that it says shows a significant percentage of consumers view radio as an attractive feature and would buy a radio-enabled device if they were more aware of this option, NAB offered an olive branch to CTIA.

“NAB and radio broadcasters want to work with the wireless industry to better inform the public about the benefits of radio-enabled mobile devices,” wrote Mago. An accurate count of how many devices are equipped with FM chips should be part of that effort, according to NAB, which believes a “coordinated effort” would benefit consumers and both the broadcast and wireless industries.

RW asked Guttman-McCabe for his response. In that, he writes: “What seems to be lost on NAB, yet is evident to everyone else, is that consumers have numerous opportunities to purchase wireless devices with FM radio capabilities. While we are not in the business of defending the Best Buy catalog, NAB’s letter concedes that it does highlight multiple FM-capable phones, and the catalog is only one source of information on the availability and capabilities of wireless handsets.” 

He goes on to say what CTIA has said in the past, is that there is scant evidence to show consumers want FM capability on their cellphones, however “to the extent” consumers want that feature, “the wireless industry will deliver.”

“Whether it’s through the introduction of technologies like Bluetooth, GPS, near-field communications, cameras, high resolution video, or the availability of applications, including extremely popular music services, like TuneIn, Pandora, Spotify and Slacker, wireless devices continue to evolve and deliver what consumers want, when they want it and where they want it,” stated Guttman-McCabe.

He did not address RW’s query about whose figures were accurate — NAB’s or CTIA’s — or whether the wireless trade group is compiling a new list of cellphones equipped with FM.

In her letter, Mago notes that CTIA has not shared such a list with the broadcast trade association.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has scheduled a meeting at the Portals to include broadcast and wireless representatives on the FM chip issue for next Friday, July 20.