FCC chairman Ajit Pai wants Apple to turn on the FM radio that’s hidden inside of every iPhone. In a statement today, he asked that Apple “reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.” The FM radio, he said, can be used to receive “life-saving information” during disasters.
Apple said Pai’s request wasn’t possible for its newest phones. “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,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. Apple seemed to indicate that it had no plans to enable FM radio on older phones either, saying that the iPhone already includes other safety features.
Most smartphones have an FM radio inside, and they have for a long time. Until recently, however, most of those radios were deactivated, so that owners couldn’t use them. There were a handful of reasons for this, but two of the more obvious ones were that if your phone receives FM radio, you’re going to be less likely to pay for music and extra wireless data — instead, you’d just tune into the radio for free.
As Pai points out, most wireless carriers and phone manufacturers have backed down on that in recent years and offered access to FM. “Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so,” Pai says.
In the past, Pai has made it clear that he doesn’t want the FCC to mandate that phone manufacturers enable FM radios, in part because it goes against free market policies. And in this case, he’s not — he’s just asking. But despite having no plans to mandate their activation, Pai has also said that “you could make a case for activating [FM] chips on public safety grounds alone.”
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