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Broadcasters Defend Their Turf on Hill

Radio broadcasters defended the value of their service and pushed for more FM chips in mobile devices at a Future of Audio hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee Wednesday, a defense that also implicates TV broadcasters' argument for their continued value in the face of the broadband wireless push.

Emmis chairman Jeff Smulyan and Commonwealth Broadcasting president Steve Newberry pointed to broadcasters' emergency alert function as one of the big reasons radio receiver functionality should be included, and activated, in smartphones and other mobile devices. That "first informer" role is the same one TV broadcasters have used to argue for not pushing them off their spectrum in favor of wireless broadband.

Smulyan and Newberry also echoed TV broadcaster arguments for how they can help relieve wireless broadband congestion, which is what is driving the FCC and Obama Administration to reclaim TV spectrum.

Democratic California Reps. Anna Eshoo and Henry Waxman brought up the issue of data caps as related to audio streaming, and the effect the caps could have on that service. But Smulyan pointed out that FM chips could help relieve that congestion since smartphone users could use the more efficient one-to-many broadcast technology to listen to the music instead of streaming it.

Representatives of the wireless industry and consumer electronics companies countered that the chips were available in many phones.

Broadcasters got some support from committee members, particularly a California Republican, Brian Bilbray, who suggested that in Califorina wildfires it would be better to be able to tune to life-saving broadcast emergency info than rely on 911. Smulyan seconded that, saying that he didn’t think people were going to get sufficient info out of a 90-character text message.

Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, who was among the most outpoken advocates of taking spectrum back from broadcasters, was just as critical of radio. He said it was a case of the industry trying to protect its market share, a "rather old industry" dealing with new players, he said, rubbing in the salt.

Smulyan countered that more people were listening to radio than ever before.