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Is your PC laptop the best deal for Internet radio?

My trusty old Windows XP PC on Spotify.

I’ve been writing a lot about Internet radio and mobile devices these days. But sometimes I think there are advantages to tuning in on my PC laptop instead.

Advantage number one: avoiding monthly charges.

Most radio social networking applications on your PC are free with advertisements, including Last.fm. But want to get Last on your mobile? After a free introductory period, you have to pay a monthly fee.

“I want to explain why we’re making some of these changes,” Last.fm’s Matthew Hawn announced in February of 2011.

On the Last.fm website an ad-supported, free-to-listeners model is what supports our online radio services in the US, UK and Germany. In other markets and on emerging mobile and home entertainment devices, it is not practical for us to deliver an ad supported radio experience, but instead, we will migrate to what we believe is the highest quality, lowest cost ad-free music service in the world.

“You’ll see that this change brings us in line with other music services that already charge you to listen to music on mobile devices,” the statement added.

Is this the way of the future? Not sure. Other services, like Spotify, are maintaining free mobile ad supported apps for some mobile gadgets. As for Rdio: “New users in the US will automatically get Rdio free on their computers,” the service notes on its FAQ pages, “but you’ll need to subscribe to use Rdio on your smartphones, tablets and home media devices.”

The challenge of delivering advertising on mobile apps continues to make the future of mobile social networking radio uncertain. Bottom line: your PC is the surest bet for free Internet radio content.

Advantage number two: easier interfaces.

I don’t know about you, but I find it so much simpler to use apps like Turntable.fm, Spotify, and Mxyer on my PC than on my mobile, not to mention option packed software suites like WinAmp. There’s just more space. And you can integrate all kinds of cool extensions for these services via PC web browsers like Chrome.

I’ve got an iPad. But for some reason I can’t get Turntable to tilt horizontally on the device so I can use it with my keyboard case. Frustrating. But tt.fm looks great on my PC. And yes, PCs are less mobile. But a small Netbook isn’t that much less portable than a tablet.

Advantage number three: less worries about ISP interference.

You can’t use Skype over WiFi on Verizon mobile devices. Now AT&T is blocking Facetime on the iPhone and iPad unless you subscribe to one of its cellular plans. If the latter carrier gets away with this, I worry that it is only a matter of time before other mobile gadgets become pockmarked by conditions on audio/video apps, especially the innovative ones that encourage two-way creativity.

I wonder if part of the reason why PCs are less susceptible to this kind of interference is because of the Federal Communication Commission’s 1969 Carterfone decision, which made it illegal for telecommunications carriers to block lawful and unharmful devices from being attached by consumers to their wired networks.

I asked John Bergmayer over at Public Knowledge about this. PK is challenging AT&T’s latest move. Here’s his reply:

“I’d say that Carterfone set the expectation as to how people would connect to wired broadband networks. It doesn’t apply on its face to broadband, just to Title II phone companies,” Bergmayer noted. “Without Carterfone, amateur BBSs, Compuserve-type commercial services, and dial-up ISPs would never have happened.”

“The openness that characterized the early days of the commercial Internet carried over to some extent into the broadband era—not in terms of ISP competition, which is unfortunate, but at least in terms of a competitive equipment market, where people can use the computers and other devices of their choice within their homes.”

The problem is that the FCC has never really extended Carterfone to mobile technology. Thus the PC seems to occupy an interesting middle ground when it comes to broadband radio. Its comparative bigness makes it less attractive to mobile lovers, but its scale makes it easier for developers to create workable free, ad supported services. And it dwells in a regulatory quasi-safe harbor that probably protects it from some ISP meddling.

PS: I’m listening to Spotify right now on my PC. Sounds great! (except for the ads)


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