Boston Globe Editorial

8/22/10     FM RADIO: Playing a Sneaky Tune

It’s been a long-running battle between the recording industry and radio broadcasters: Should the broadcasters have to pay the industry for playing its music, or is the status quo, in which broadcasters pay songwriters but not performers or labels, fair enough as it is? An end to the disagreement appears to be in sight, but it could be one that severely — and unnecessarily — puts consumers in the crossfire.

The National Association of Broadcasters and the Recording Industry Association of America are finishing up a framework for a deal, tech media outlets reported last week. Broadcasters would pay around $100 million annually to copyright holders (often, the major music labels) in fees. In exchange, the RIAA would sign on with the NAB to a proposal that they would send on to Congress which, if passed, would mandate that FM receivers be built into all mobile phones.

The benefit to broadcasters is clear: The more people walk around with FM-enabled devices, the more people will tune into FM radio. But the idea of making this technology mandatory via legislation smacks of backroom dealing that infringes upon consumers’ rights. Consumers value small, sleek phones — if manufacturers are forced to add another component, it will hamper their ability to give consumers what they want.

Then there’s the fact that FM technology seems, frankly, on its way out. Consumers have voted with their wallets, and have decided that for the most part, they don’t care about whether their portable gadgets have it. For Congress to mandate the inclusion of outdated technology should offend anyone who believes in consumers’ rights — or the free market. 

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