Though some high-end phones still offer FM radio support, that is becoming increasingly uncommon. The FCC isn’t happy about the lack of support, though, and is now asking Apple to activate the FM radio chips in the iPhone. Statements about the matter were recently made by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who said, “It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put safety of the American people first.”
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At the heart of the matter is FM radio’s place during natural disasters; though wireless service may go down, such as what happens during major storms like Hurricane Harvey, FM radio broadcasts will likely remain and give people a way to get necessary information.
FM radios are becoming a rare sight in the average household, though, as most people get their audio through streaming services and smartphones.
Pai isn’t the first to call on Apple to activate these FM radio capabilities in the iPhone. Reuters reports that Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) also wants Apple to activate the chips, saying in a statement, “The bottom line is consumers need critical information in times of emergency.” The National Association of Broadcasters is also onboard with the requests.
Though smartphones are more common than ever, ‘simple’ technologies like OTA TV and FM radio are still viewed as vital ways to transmit critical information to populations, including people who don’t have access to phones and wireless networks — whether due to living in a rural region, not being able to afford wireless service, or because services have been temporarily taken out.
We saw a similar issue come to light recently when the FCC’s spectrum incentive auction put over-the-air PBS broadcasts at risk. Such broadcasts depend on critical infrastructure called translators, which are low-power facilities that deliver the channel to local populations.
The FCC’s auction didn’t ensure the cost of making the frequency switch was covered for these translators, meaning rural regions were at risk of losing OTA PBS access. That was a risky move due to PBS’s vital role in delivering critical weather, public safety, and civic news to populations who may lose access to cable broadcasts or who may be in too rural of a location to get paid services. In that case, T-Mobile stepped up to foot the bill.