A bill that would have required electric vehicles to provide access to AM radio broadcasts was blocked from passing by unanimous consent on Tuesday.
The blockage was initiated by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said the proposal under the “AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act” would impose an unwarranted government mandate on private businesses within one of America’s largest domestic industries.
“There is a certain amount of irony in seeing Republicans come to the floor proposing mandates on business,” Paul said in remarks made on the floor of the Senate. “Mandating that all cars have AM radio is antithetical to any notion of limited government.”
The comments were made after the co-author of the bill, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, sought passage of his bill by unanimous consent, which would have allowed the U.S. Senate to pass the bill without a formal vote from each lawmaker.
The bill has broad bipartisan support in the Senate, and a similar effort in the U.S. House has near-equal support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Since it was introduced earlier this year, lawmakers have generally accepted without challenge the position of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and other radio trade groups that claim without evidence that a lack of AM radio tuners in electric vehicles could create numerous public safety issues.
The AM radio bill was proposed after several electric vehicle makers signaled their intention to drop the tuners from their cars and trucks over electromagnetic interference caused by their battery-powered engines. The automakers say the interference causes discomfort to drivers and passengers, and were unnecessary in the era of streaming, with most AM radio stations available on platforms like iHeart, Audacy and TuneIn.
Proponents of the mandate claim keeping AM radio signals in vehicles will ensure drivers and passengers have access to potentially-life saving information during emergencies. Nearly all of their examples point to weather-related calamities, which can be rare, depending on where a person lives. Opponents say motorists have other ways of getting that same information, including emergency alerts broadcast to wireless phones.
Nothing in the bill would require the installation of AM radio tuners. Instead, the measure requires car manufacturers to make available AM radio signals — which could be as simple as bundling their in-dash car entertainment systems with complementary wireless data to pull in streaming simulcasts of AM radio stations through apps.
Still, the measure is widely viewed among the public and lawmakers to mean that carmakers would have to install AM radio tuners, even if there’s no substantial technical or safety reason for it. On Tuesday, Senator Paul suggested the measure might even run afoul of constitutional protections concerning free speech.
“The debate over free speech, as listed in the First Amendment, is that government shall pass no law,” Paul said. “It has nothing to do with forcing your manufacturer to have AM radio. This legislation attempts to insert Congress’ judgment into a question best decided by American consumers.”
Senator Paul also proposed an amendment that would end subsidies for electric car purchases, something that could help fuel the purchase of gas-powered cars, trucks and SUVs and disincentivize manufacturing of electric vehicles.
“Some of the new electric cars, what they’re saying is, is that the battery is so strong that it disrupts the am signal,” Senator Paul said in an interview with the rural broadcast outlet RFD-TV. “So, there’s an extra cost if you want to have AM radio in electric cars, and what I’ve said is, if this is a problem for AM radio, maybe we shouldn’t be subsidizing these cars.”
Automakers agree with Senator Paul on that point. In May, the Consumer Technology Association — the host of the popular Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every year — said any government mandate concerning the reception of AM radio programming in electric vehicles would undoubtedly cause the prices of those cars and trucks to go up.
“Requiring AM radio installation in new cars would impose additional costs on automakers, leading to increased prices for consumers,” a spokesperson for the CTA said in a statement. “AM radio reception is especially challenging and costly in new electric vehicles due to signal interference. This added burden could stifle innovation in other areas of vehicle development, potentially impeding safety features or advancements in fuel efficiency.”
The CTA went on to say that while “AM radio holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of many,” any government imposition on carmakers “would be a nonsensical and counterproductive move.”
Supporters of the bill are not giving up. On Tuesday, NAB CEO Curtis LeGeyt praised lawmakers for their effort to seek final passage of the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act, without noting that the bill was ultimately blocked from being passed by unanimous consent.
“With 192 cosponsors in the House and 44 in the Senate, the bill has gained remarkable momentum, highlighting the widespread recognition of the importance of AM radio to the American people,” LeGety said in a statement emailed to The Desk. “This bipartisan collaboration reflects a shared dedication to ensuring that AM radio remains a dependable and accessible medium for all.”