FCC To Big Telecom: Please Activate The FM Radios You’re Putting In Our Phones




By Janet Burns

Monday February 20, 2017


As a devotee of frequency modulation (FM) who’s shopped around for this feature, I was surprised to hear that most smartphones do, in fact, come factory-equipped with the hardware needed to catch some airwaves; manufacturers often simply choose not to enable it. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), giving consumers that access to radio could be a matter of free communication and content vs. Big Data’s bottom line–and even life or death.

As the Washington Post reported Thursday, the FCC is appealing to smartphone-makers to activate the FM receiver chips that come standard in most U.S. devices, but which remain turned off in more than half. Newly appointed chairman Ajit Pai told audiences at last week’s North American Broadcasters’ Association symposium that the untapped technology offers a host of benefits to consumers and content-producers alike.

Pai told the group that while most smartphones include the FM chips, they were found to be active in just 44% of the U.S. “top-selling smartphones” as of last fall, and even fewer in Canada, according to prepared remarks [PDF]. Whereas in Mexico, he said, closer to 80% of smartphones come standard with FM radio–a fact that may relate to Telcel’s steady mobile market share of around 70%.

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