The Alliance for Automotive Innovation has joined Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA) and TechNet in a new letter to Congress opposing a proposal to mandate analogue AM (medium wave) radio in new vehicles sold in the US.

The letter noted requiring manufacturers to use a particular technology would slow innovation.

The organizations also highlighted several alternative forms of emergency communication such as Wireless Emergency Alerts, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, and digital audio broadcasting.

The organisations wrote: “As new products come to market, the federal government must prioritise policies that promote innovation, consumer preferences, and freedom of choice.

“While there are many benefits to AM radio, there are several reasons why such a mandate is unnecessary and contrary to the principles of a free-market economy. While we acknowledge the important role AM radio has played over the last century as part of an emergency communications system layered across different media with multiple redundancies, the requirement would unnecessarily hinder progress in the automotive industry.”

Emergency Communications

“Regarding access to emergency communications, emergency alerts are delivered through several overlapping mediums to provide maximum redundancy, and the FCC is working to continue improving the system to service a broader array of Americans during emergencies. Some make the argument that AM radio is necessary for emergency broadcasts, but in such cases FM radio, internet streaming services, better rural broadband, and text alerts supplement any loss of AM radio access.

“Cell phones – owned by 97% of Americans today – receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) based on their location. WEAs are unaffected by network congestion [and Americans can receive WEAs even if cellular networks can no longer support other methods of communication (calls, text, and emails). Similarly, WEAs are entirely free to receive, short (under 360 characters), and easily identified by a
unique tone and vibration.

“Unlike radio alerts, they can also contain an embedded hyperlink to guide the recipient to helpful information within seconds of receiving the alert; given that 85% of Americans with a cell phone own a smartphone, the vast majority of people receiving an alert can take advantage of this benefit.

“Unlike EAs, radio alerts require the listener to have turned the radio on and be tuned in to select channels participating in the Emergency Alert System. Another key aspect of WEAs is that they may be designed to provide support for Americans with hearing impairments in a way that traditional AM radio alerts are incapable of doing, as well as offering other accommodations for Americans with disabilities. Although participation in the WEA program is voluntary, all major cell phone providers participate, ensuring a high degree of reliability.

“In addition, “the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) is FEMA’s national system for local alerting that provides authenticated emergency and life-saving information to the public through mobile phones using Wireless Emergency Alerts, to radio and television via the Emergency Alert System, and on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Radio.”

The organisations noted “emergency alerts are duplicated across several signals to ensure maximum coverage”.

“New digital and satellite radio systems are also designed to provide the same alerts to a larger audience and over a broader geographic area, and excluding AM radios from vehicles does not mean drivers will be prevented from hearing AM radio altogether. Today, most vehicles are equipped with digital radio as a standard feature, and this technology allows authorities to tune the radio to the appropriate channel.

“Digital radios are also free-of-charge, more resistant to interference than AM reception, and better suited to mobile objects like vehicles. Similar to AM radio, digital radio is broadcast from a transmission site and does not require an internet or Wi-Fi connection. In fact, digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is commonly used in Europe for emergency warning systems. Norway has completely phased out the use of FM and AM radio in favour of DAB which they say will improve their emergency preparedness system.”

They concluded: “Mandating analogue AM radio in automobiles – which Congress has never done – is an unnecessary action in the modern communication era and has no bearing on the ability of drivers to receive emergency alerts across multiple modes of communication currently available in automobiles manufactured today.

“Congress should allow auto manufacturers and consumers to choose designs that prioritise individual radio choice and technological innovation rather than mandate a particular communications technology for information and content that is otherwise widely available to the public through multiple other modes of communication.”