FCC Urges Apple to Protect Safety of Americans by Activating FM Radio Chip in iPhones [Updated]

Amidst renewed pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters, FCC chairman Ajit Pai has now issued a statement urging Apple to activate the FM radio capabilities built into the wireless modem of every iPhone.


Pai said he hopes Apple will "reconsider its position" following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which have devastated parts of the United States, including Florida and Texas, and Caribbean islands like Barbuda, Dominica, and Puerto Rico.

Powerful storms can leave thousands or millions of people without power or cellular service for weeks or even months, and over-the-air FM radio can provide vital access to weather alerts and other life-saving information.

Pai added that "it is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first."

His full statement:

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 groundsalone.’ 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.

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.'"

Pai has advocated for the activation of the FM tuner in all smartphones before, but this is the first time he has called out Apple by name.

A study by the National Association of Broadcasters last year found only 44 percent of the top-selling smartphones in the United States had FM radio capabilities enabled. 94 percent of the unactivated devices were iPhones.

Both the Qualcomm and Intel chips that enable Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity in every iPhone have a built-in FM tuner that would allow people to listen to FM radio over the air. Apple has not enabled the functionality, forcing users to use an app to stream FM radio over Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Apple hasn't revealed why it keeps the FM radio functionality disabled. Some critics suggest it could be to avoid losing Apple Music subscriptions, but the real reason is probably deeper than that.

Update: MacRumors has received the following statement from an Apple spokesperson:

Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that's why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products. Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.

We'll update this article if the FCC responds to Apple's statement.

Tag: FCC

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
40 months ago
I don't disagree with enabling FM, but Ajit Pai pretending to be the hero here is laughable. He's been a major PITA for net neutrality for the past while and as such has zero credibility behind his voice. If you want FM to be enabled, find a better spokesperson than this joke.
Score: 67 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
Or you could just buy an FM radio that will last for days on batteries, as opposed to using your phone which will last for hours.
Score: 54 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
Completely agree. Apple should Enable it for safety precautions. For those living where Hurricanes are more Prevalent, this could be a useful tool when they need it most.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
I think it would just be cool to get analog radio on my digital device...wish there was an AM radio on the chips too...
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
He should also be calling out the carriers that request the functionality be turned off in Android phones.
Ajit also has some incorrect information. Even if the modem is there, you need an application to interface and tune the frequencies. You also need an antennae. In most phones this is provided by the headphones.
New iPhones don't have a headphone.
Will not work.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
An FM tuner chip is useless unless it can be connected to a suitable antenna. There is no headphone jack, and there may be no RF signal path from the Lightning jack, making any FM tuner circuit on the chip useless.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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