There was once a time when smartphones in America did not make it to US soil with an FM radio chip. Or, rather, most of these devices would hit store shelves with the FM radio chip disabled. Of course, if you have bought a smartphone in the US in the past few years, you might notice that FM radio is becoming more widely available; both phone manufacturers and mobile service carriers have been pushing to reintroduce it.
And now the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appears to be pushing for it as well.
According to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the agency has released a statement which urges that Apple activates the FM chips that have been disabled in iPhones. Pai specifically points out the public safety benefits of access to FM radio signals, particularly in the wake of all the devastation brought upon by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria.
In a statement imploring Apple take initiative, Pai remarks:
“In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States. And I’ve specifically pointed out the public safety benefits of doing so. In fact, in my first public speech after I became Chairman, I observed that ‘[y]ou could make a case for activating chips on public safety grounds alone.’ When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life-saving information. I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones.
Pai goes on to say, “Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That’s why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones. It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first. As the Sun Sentinel of South Florida put it, ‘Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it.’”
Of course, carriers have long been opposed to the enabled FM radio chip because it means [US] users could access free FM radio without having to pay for cellular data. Fortunately, the industry is coming around to understanding that this access is not only a convenience but an important mobile tool at a time when people need it most.