FCC chairman tells Apple to turn on iPhone's FM radio chip

Gigi Sohn

Gigi Sohn

Virtually every major-brand smartphone on the market is capable of picking up signals broadcast on the FM radio band, but only Apple locks its device's FM chip such that users can not listen to over-the-air radio on their phones.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Apple was the one major phone manufacturer that has not activated the chips.

Now after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria tore through parts of the United States and the Caribbean, broadcasters are taking another opportunity to push Cupertino to rethink its stance.

Apple is yet to respond to FCC's request, but it'll be quite interesting to see if the company decides to enable the FM chips on its iPhones after all these years. While FM Radio isn't used regularly by most users nowadays, it's still being widely used for many different purposes.

One reason Apple might be keeping built-in FM radio off on iPhones is because the feature might discourage customers from buying from iTunes or subscribing to its Apple Music streaming service. It also enables government emergency notifications, ranging from weather advisories to AMBER alerts.

The FCC said yesterday that two-thirds of the cellular sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands and more than 90 percent of those in Puerto Rico were down in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes that hit those areas.

The National Association of Broadcasters says Apple' decision is denying those in danger access to critical information during and after storms, when more modern communication methods are damaged.

"Local broadcasters are a lifeline information source in times of crisis, as Chairman Pai, Sen".

"In fact", he said, "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'". "Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and other members of Congress and the FCC have noted", the group said in a statement. He wants the phone maker to activate the FM radio that lies dormant inside iPhones, all in the name of public safety.

"It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first", he continued.

Pai, a Republican, has been reluctant to mandate cellphone makers offer FM radio access.

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