Cell companies want no part of a PRA deal


Leave us out of it is the basic reaction of the trade organization for wireless phone companies to the idea of mandating FM receiver capability in cell phones as part of a deal by the NAB and musicFirst on a mutually acceptable Performance Rights Act. CTIA – The Wireless Association is now girding for battle to keep its business out of any PRA deal.

CTIA – which now uses initials, not the original name of Cellular Telephone Industries Association – has not been part of any negotiations over PRA. But now that the word is out that an FM in cell phones mandate is proposed as part of a settlement, the lobbying organization is leaping in to get that pulled out of any legislation heading to a congressional vote.

“This is not a sandbox I want to have to play in,” said CTIA VP of Government Affairs Jot Carpenter. He told RBR-TVBR he wants the radio and music industries to resolve their own problems without involving his industry.

“What should happen is the performance rights advocates and the broadcasters ought to go off and settle their problems in a way that doesn’t involve us. We’re not looking to be a part of that debate or discussion or legislation. We would not support an effort to draw us into those discussions,” Carpenter said. “I don’t see how adoption of an FM chip mandate helps to resolve those issues. I think NAB would like to use this as a vehicle to get that done. It’s been a long-standing public policy goal of theirs. But if they push it we’ll work to frustrate it. We think it’s a bad idea and it shouldn’t happen.”

Carpenter said neither NAB nor the RIAA had tried to enlist his organization’s support and the proposal that came out Friday was a complete surprise.

What about the argument that using FM to meet the wireless industry’s emergency notification requirements under the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act would actually save the cell phone companies billions of dollars over using their own texting-based systems?

“That’s been part of the NAB talking points on this for a number of years. Not only have we heard it and rejected it, but the Commercial Mobile Alert Service Advisory Committee that was established by the Congress to make recommendations to the FCC as it implemented the WARN Act heard that argument, thought about it, and decided to endorse something else. So the question has sort of been asked and answered from our perspective – and NAB can keep peddling that message for as long as it likes, but it’s not going to change our view or the FCC’s view that the FM approach is, in this context, not the right one,” Carpenter said.

The CTIA lobbyist noted that time is short to move anything in the current Congress. “It would be a lot more likely that the NAB and the recording interests could get a deal in a lame-duck session [after the November election] if it didn’t involve us,” he noted. “If they involve us, I would think we will be looking to frustrate the ability to move legislation on that issue.”

RBR-TVBR also sought comment from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), whose members would have to build the FM chips into cell phones if such legislation passes. The CEA declined to comment until actual legislation is proposed. It’s a good bet, though, that it would not welcome any technology mandate.

RBR-TVBR observation: Removal of the FM in cell phones provision would obviously be a deal-breaker for the radio side. We understand that pressure may be brought from Members of Congress who really want to pass PRA and may hold some leverage with the wireless folks on other issues. Will it be enough to get the deal done? Heck, there’s not even a deal yet between NAB and musicFirst/RIAA.