FCC pressures Apple to activate FM chip in its iPhones

In the wake of recent natural disasters, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is turning up the pressure on Apple to activate the hidden FM radios in their smartphones, a move that other handset makers have previously complied with. Apple is the lone holdout.

The FM chip has been an unknown part of smartphones for some time, and Pai has made a point in recent years to push phone makers to activate those chips, saying they can provide life-saving help during a crisis. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have done damage in billions in their rampages through the Caribbean and the southern United States, affecting communications in most of the affected areas. FM radios are a vital link between people affected and agencies trying to get information to them.

Companies such as Samsung, Motorola, LG, and HTC have complied with Pai's request. The four major wireless companies in the United States have all started to allow phones to be shipped with activated FM chips. However, Apple is the last holdout. While Pai praised those that have complied, he turned up the heat on Apple.

“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,” Pai said in a statement released by the FCC. “I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones.”

"It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first," he continued. "As the Sun Sentinel of South Florida put it, ‘Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it.’"

Lawmakers from the affected areas have also chimed in. “The bottom line is consumers need critical information in times of emergency,” Florida Senator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “If technologies, such as radio chips, exist that will help do that during times of emergencies, then companies should be doing everything in their power to employ their use.”

Apple has as yet not responded to the renewed push for it to comply.

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.

Pai could easily order Apple's compliance, but he has refrained from doing so because he understands that free market is involved. Phone makers had previously kept silent about the chips because it encouraged users to spend money for extra bandwidth for streaming music instead of tuning in to the local FM radio station.

You can check out if your phone supports FM radio via NextRadio.

Image source: Techspot

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