NAB works with the wireless industry and policymakers to promote consumer awareness and access to radio receivers in mobile devices. Virtually all smartphones are manufactured with hardware capable of receiving free FM radio signals. However, some major U.S. wireless carriers block this feature that can save consumers battery life and data charges, while also providing a critical lifeline during times of emergency.
Despite a ready audience of more than 240 million radio fans, only some wireless carriers in the U.S. provide consumers access to the FM radio in their handsets. Sprint offers the most activated radio tuners in its smartphones, allowing customers to listen to free, local broadcast radio stations on several models of smartphones. FM radio is delivered on these devices through native or downloadable apps, such as NextRadio, with the use of earbuds or headphones acting as an antenna.
The consumer benefits to FM radio in phones are clear:
A survey found that 81 percent of Americans not only want free, local radio as a feature, but would be willing to pay to get it, citing its importance during emergencies. If the market for wireless services and devices is truly competitive, this pro-consumer feature should be more widely offered. Some have suggested that wireless carriers aren’t offering this feature because it threatens their revenue from streaming data. However, data offloading would be beneficial in reducing both network congestion and consumer bills. Activating the FM radio in mobile phones is spectrally-efficient while providing immense consumer benefits.
Unlocking FM in mobile phones offers many benefits to consumers, especially in times of crisis. Unlike the textbased alert system deployed by the wireless industry, broadcast radio can work even when cell networks go down or become heavily congested. As a result, local radio provides the most efficient and cost-effective way to keep Americans safe and informed in times of crisis.
To foster competition, empower consumers and enhance public safety, Congress, FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the wireless industry should consider ways to expand consumer access to FM radio in mobile devices. NAB does not support mandated FM radio in cellphones. However, wireless carriers should clearly communicate to consumers which models already have built-in broadcast radio, and agree to unlock FM in their phones.