FCC Chairman Encourages Apple to Activate FM Chips

He says, "It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first" September 28, 2017

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai just weighed in more forcefully on the FM chip debate, and did something unusual, calling out an electronics manufacturer by name.

Pai previously had made known his support for the voluntary activation by phone makers of FM reception capability that is latent in most phones. And he gives no sign of changing his opposition to any kind of requirement or mandate to do that. But today he explicitly called on Apple, the big notable holdout whose iPhones seem to be everywhere, to turn on FM radio reception capability, posing this as a matter of public safety.

He wrote: “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.’”

Pai said that 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.”

And then the line that is going to get folks at NAB, NextRadio/Emmis and other FM advocates cheering:

“Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so,” Pai wrote. “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.’”

However, he did not address the technical issue of the recent iPhone iterations' lack of a headphone jack, which is used as the antenna for the smartphone's FM reception. 

Pai's comments come in the context of recent major weather-related events in the country and that recent newspaper editorial. Radio broadcasters have long highlighted the importance of OTA broadcasts in times of crisis, both for emergency alerting and for vital news and services information. 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. (AM unfortunately has always been a trickier issue in phones, in part for technical reasons.)

In his first public appearance as chairman in February, as RW reported, Pai said, "It seems odd that every day we hear about a new smartphone app that lets you do something innovative, yet these modern-day mobile miracles don’t enable a key function offered by a 1982 Sony Walkman." He cited the arguments that consumers would "love" access to favorite content over-the-air while using less battery life and less data, and observed that Mexico has a much higher percentage of top-selling smartphones that provide local FM tuning. (Read that speech in its entirety here.)

A version of this article originally appeared on RadioWorld.com.

 

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