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FCC Chairman Urges Apple to Activate iPhone’s FM Radio Chip for Relief Efforts [u]

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Radio

In the wake of three major hurricanes that have wiped out communications for millions of people over the past month, Ajit Pai, the Chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has called on Apple to activate the FM radio chip on every iPhone in the name of public safety, Bloomberg is reporting.

“I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria,” Pai said in a statement. “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.”

In Congress, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is leading calls for mobile phone manufacturers to activate the FM radio chips embedded in nearly all smartphones.

While every iPhone includes an FM radio chip, Apple has chosen not to activate the feature, a move critics say could be putting lives in danger. Some critics believe that Apple doesn’t want to cannibalize its streaming service by giving iPhone owners access to free radio service over the airwaves.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters said that information on how to evacuate quickly, or where flood waters are raging, is being provided by broadcasters all the time. He continued “The notion that Apple or anyone else would block this type of information is something that we find fairly troubling.”

Below is Ajit Pai’s official statement calling on Apple to step up:

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.'”

Apple has not yet issued any official response regarding the matter.

Update Sept. 28, 1:57PM PDT: Apple says iPhone 7, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus do not contain FM radio chips, so they can’t be enabled, in a statement to media outlets.

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  • Bill___A

    Radios, including crank powered ones, are readily available n the marketplace and should be in everyone’s emergency kit. Impassioned pleas directed at smart phone manufacturers to “put the safety of American people first”, although well intended, are not the solution. People have enough trouble keeping their devices charged without having to also use them as a radio. I don’t see relief agencies handing out portable radios with the bottles of water, so although having a radio is a good idea, I don’t think it is generally a life or death issue. However, these vocal advocates should be reminding people to get radios in advance, and if they are so critically important now, start doling them out.

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    Apple still sells the iPhone 6s and didn’t mention it in their excuse for not helping. I guess it has a radio chip in it that they won’t activate.

    Also, why doesn’t Apple put a radio in the 7 and 8 anyway? It’s not like anyone bothers listening to FM radio as its so bad, but it would be great as a safety feature as the FCC chairman points out.

  • Jimmy Sum

    Can you guys ask why the Canadian carriers haven’t unlock the same feature in our Samsung s7 edge devices? It been unlocked in the US since 2016 from what I read.

  • xxxJDxxx

    Wouldn’t activating these chips require internet access? If you have internet access do you really need an FM radio?

  • space2001

    they need FM antennas as well – Norway is almost completely phasing out FM Analogue, and may be followed by UK and Switzerland.
    FM radio is limited to roughly 60-90 km, and paths of destruction in Carribean meant wider areas impacted, no power for radio towers, no towers standing in a lot of cases.
    Hmm, perhaps they could add XM radio (Satellite radio!)

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    Headphones are the common way to add antennas to phones and iPods. The headphone cable itself becomes the antenna. I’m sure a charging cable could do the same if the wired it to do so. It’s not guaranteed to help – such as in your example of radio towers going down. But it’s better than nothing. Think about how many radio stations you can choose from – there is a chance that at least some of them would still be working in an emergency.

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    If they didn’t sell them disabled to begin with, they wouldn’t need activating. And no, if you have internet access you don’t need an FM radio – but they were talking about emergencies where internet service is down.

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    “so although having a radio is a good idea, I don’t think it is generally a life or death issue” I think the point of the request to activate the radios is that in emergencies, getting the right information IS a life or death issue. Getting people to evacuate an areas due to flooding or fire for example.

  • Chrome262

    He is right though, FM, doesn’t have the rang, AM and SW at least had longer wave lengths, i believe allowing them to bounce around more and get better coverage. In any case its old and outdated, Satelite is the really only way to go in a disaster. but the transmitters and receivers are pretty big, why sat phones aren’t small by comparison. What cities in those areas should have are Sat stations, most of those can handle huge storms, and you can set a small one up pretty quick, army does it. then sent off free wifi, or even cell signal from it. I don’t get why thats not part of FEMA

  • Chrome262

    Love how politicians will run with little information to show how they are fighting the big bad corporations. lol

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