It’s Time to Replace Fiction With Facts

On Friday, I read another statement from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) calling on government to intervene in the wireless handset ecosystem. This most recent NAB statement seeking FM chipsets in mobile phones contradicts NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith’s testimony at a recent spectrum hearing that it was not calling for a technology mandate to place broadcast chips in mobile devices. Now, last week’s rhetoric goes back to the same false statements and calls for misguided technology mandates in the wake of the natural disasters that NAB has issued before. Whether it’s simply not understanding the wireless industry or seeking to advance a self‑serving agenda, it’s important for policy makers to know the facts in light of NAB’s advocacy.

  • Fact: In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake two weeks ago, the wireless networks worked. In fact, contrary to some reports of “outages,” wireless networks saw a 400 – 600 percent surge in call attempts and processed calls at a rate significantly higher than normal busy-hour calls. The networks actually processed significantly more calls than normal, not less. No wireless towers went down and no networks failed as a result of the “one-two punch” of the earthquake and Hurricane Irene.
  • Fact: Despite the tremendous spike in traffic on wireless networks, millions of Americans across the country used their wireless devices to contact their loved ones to make sure they were safe, or to call 911. In contrast, radio and television could not help people make these critical personal contacts in their time of need.
  • Fact: The laws of physics do not change and spectrum is finite. When millions of wireless subscribers press “send” on their wireless devices in the same time period, congestion occurs and wireless networks respond dynamically. Imagine the congestion that would result if a bridge designed to serve normal rush hour traffic suddenly faced an entire city trying to exit. To ensure more people can use their wireless devices when there’s a significant increase of users, we must get more spectrum, or more lanes on the bridge.
  • Fact: An examination of FM radios in cellphones is moot. NAB is already well aware that there are dozens of mobile devices currently offered with enabled FM radio. At least 41 phones are offered with enabled FM radio and that number continues to grow, as NAB itself acknowledges. In fact, 6 of PCWorld’s top 10 “best” smartphones have FM radio, including 4 of the top 5.
  • Fact: NAB’s statement that broadcasters are the only ones delivering emergency information is flat wrong.  In the wake of the earthquake, millions of people sent and received reports through text messages, tweets or Facebook updates about the unique situation at their location. Some subscribers, like myself, subscribe to D.C. and Arlington Alerts and receive timely information. Just last month a “macroburst” hit my neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia causing significant damage, as my family and I were driving home from the District. Even though we had our radio on at the time, both my wife and I learned about the impending storm from Arlington Alert through our wireless devices, not the radio. We actually were in front of our radio and did not hear any warning. And in just a few months, the wireless industry will begin delivering wireless emergency alerts in partnership with the federal government.

Those subscribers that truly want to receive FM radio on their mobile wireless devices already can (and have plenty of choices to boot!). We understand NAB’s attempts to piggyback on the innovative wireless industry in the face of declining listeners, but let’s make sure regulators base their analysis on facts – not fiction.

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