FCC Chairman Calls on Apple to Turn on FM Reception in iPhones

Ajit Pai Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission testifies before a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

FCC Chairman Calls on Apple to Turn on FM Reception in iPhones

Pai made his appeal in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which have wreaked havoc on communities across the U.S. and beyond in recent weeks.

But FM can be a vital source of news and information for users during emergencies, Pai said. Though the phone includes the FM chip, Apple Inc. has chosen not to activate the feature, a move critics say could be putting lives in danger.

The FCC said on Wednesday that more than 90 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and two-thirds of those in the U.S. Virgin Islands were out of service after hurricanes damaged them.

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"Broadcasters are providing information on how to evacuate quickly, where flood waters are raging, how to get out of harm's way if there's a tornado or a hurricane", spokesman Dennis Wharton told Bloomberg (via MacRumors). "The notion that Apple or anyone else would block this type of information is something that we find fairly troubling".

Pai has beaten the FM radio drum several times in the past; he made a more general call for phone makers to open up the FM chip while speaking to the North American Broadcasters Association this past February.

Apple declined to comment on the matter, Bloomberg said.

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For its part, the National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group representing USA television and radio stations, hailed Mr. Pai's request in a Thursday news release. He said the FM chips could improve public safety during those situations. The FM radio option comes with the Qualcomm chips installed on iPhones, and nearly every smartphone in the market.

"NAB salutes FCC Chairman Pai for his strong support for voluntary activation of FM radio chips in Apple iPhones", said Gordon Smith, NAB's president and CEO and a former Republican senator from Oregon.

But many smartphone manufacturers and mobile carriers have disabled that function. Proponents of FM reception in phones, including the NAB as well as Emmis-owned NextRadio, the app that relies on that reception capability, have echoed these arguments for activating the chips. "I don't believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it's best to sort this issue out in the marketplace".

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For his part, Fernandez said the ability to listen to radio broadcasts through the FM chip would be "instrumental" in a disaster.

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