Government should not require FM radios on cell phones

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Many conservatives think there should be virtually no regulation of commerce: Businesses should be allowed to offer whatever products they think they can sell and let the buyer beware.

Many liberals think government should strictly regulate every feature of every product manufactured or sold in the United States.

We think there has to be a happy medium between the two sides.

We have no problem with requiring restaurants to list the number of calories in each entrée on their menus. That’s just providing useful information to the customer, who is still free to decide whether he wants to buy any entrée.

We also have no problem with a government proposal to require window stickers on new cars and trucks to reflect a vehicle’s overall fuel economy and greenhouse-gas emissions. Again that is just giving the customer more information on which to base his or her decision.

But we do have a problem with a recent proposal to require cell phones to include FM radios.

Most cell phones already include a variety of gadgets, such as cameras, calculators and computers. That’s fine if the manufacturers think those gadgets will help them sell phones.

Some cell phones already include FM radios, but those have been poor sellers, Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro told USA Today.

Now, though, the National Association of Broadcasters wants to require all mobile phones to include FM radio tuners. The Music First coalition, which includes the Recording Industry Association of American and the American Federation of Musicians, is also supporting this proposal.

NAB executive vice president Dennis Wharton told CNET Aug. 26 that nonbroadcast wireless networks tend to become clogged during emergencies, so “there would be a public benefit to have free and local radio on all of these devices. I don’t think it’s a huge burden on cell-phone manufacturers to add this device.”

USA Today wrote, however, “Others say that FM radio chips and antennas would drain batteries, add to costs, and take up space that could be used for new technologies.”

Wharton and others should just be honest and admit that they support this proposal because it could possibly increase their audience and thus their advertising revenue, both of which have declined as more Americans have turned to the Internet for news and iPods for music.

That’s not a good reason for the government to require FM radios in cell phones, though.

And Wharton’s argument that radios in cell phones would be useful in emergencies, when the Internet could become clogged, simply doesn’t hold water. People could simply listen to the radios they already have in their homes and cars.

But it could be tragic if someone needed to make a call on his cell phone during an emergency and was unable to do so because the battery had been drained by having an FM radio on the phone.

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