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Expand Access to Emergency Information: Unlock FM

ISSUE SUMMARY
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, one major U.S. wireless carrier - Verizon - blocks this feature that can save consumers battery life and data charges, while also providing a critical lifeline during times of emergency.

History
Despite a ready audience of more than 265 million radio fans, only Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile provide U.S. consumers access to the FM radio in their handsets, allowing customers to listen to free, local broadcast radio stations. 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:

  • Using built-in FM radio, as opposed to streaming, provides six times longer battery life.
  • Listening to local radio rather than streaming does not incur data charges.
  • Local radio is a dependable lifeline, available when other forms of communication fail.
  • During emergencies, whether because of physical damage to the network or too much traffic, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has stated, "Your cell phone becomes a brick," but local radio still works.

NAB Position
We applaud Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile for unlocking FM in mobile phones, which offers many benefits to consumers, especially in times of crisis. Unlike the text-based 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. We urge Verizon to provide their customers with this feature.

Action Needed
To 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, we urge all wireless carriers to clearly communicate to consumers which models already have built-in broadcast radio, and agree to unlock FM in their phones.