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.
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.