FCC Urges Apple to Protect Safety of Americans by Activating FM Radio Chip in iPhones [Updated]

MacRumors

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Amidst renewed pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters, FCC chairman Ajit Pai has now issued a statement urging Apple to activate the FM radio capabilities built into the wireless modem of every iPhone.


Pai said he hopes Apple will "reconsider its position" following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which have devastated parts of the United States, including Florida and Texas, and Caribbean islands like Barbuda, Dominica, and Puerto Rico.

Powerful storms can leave thousands or millions of people without power or cellular service for weeks or even months, and over-the-air FM radio can provide vital access to weather alerts and other life-saving information.

Pai added that "it is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first."

His full statement:
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.'"
Pai has advocated for the activation of the FM tuner in all smartphones before, but this is the first time he has called out Apple by name.

A study by the National Association of Broadcasters last year found only 44 percent of the top-selling smartphones in the United States had FM radio capabilities enabled. 94 percent of the unactivated devices were iPhones.

Both the Qualcomm and Intel chips that enable Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity in every iPhone have a built-in FM tuner that would allow people to listen to FM radio over the air. Apple has not enabled the functionality, forcing users to use an app to stream FM radio over Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Apple hasn't revealed why it keeps the FM radio functionality disabled. Some critics suggest it could be to avoid losing Apple Music subscriptions, but the real reason is probably deeper than that.

Update: MacRumors has received the following statement from an Apple spokesperson:
Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that's why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products. Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. 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.
We'll update this article if the FCC responds to Apple's statement.

Article Link: FCC Urges Apple to Protect Safety of Americans by Activating FM Radio Chip in iPhones [Updated]
 

techwhiz

macrumors 6502a
Feb 22, 2010
953
1,123
Northern Ca.
He should also be calling out the carriers that request the functionality be turned off in Android phones.
Ajit also has some incorrect information. Even if the modem is there, you need an application to interface and tune the frequencies. You also need an antennae. In most phones this is provided by the headphones.
New iPhones don't have a headphone.
Will not work.
 

Suckfest 9001

macrumors 65816
May 31, 2015
1,215
1,715
Canada
I don't disagree with enabling FM, but Ajit Pai pretending to be the hero here is laughable. He's been a major PITA for net neutrality for the past while and as such has zero credibility behind his voice. If you want FM to be enabled, find a better spokesperson than this joke.
 

DrumApple

macrumors 6502a
Jan 30, 2009
530
1,371
I love FM radio, listen every day for hours. I was considering a BlackBerry KeyOne because it has FM radio, albeit you have to have headphones plugged in.

Would love to see my iPhone get FM radio. Maybe it drains battery?
 
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iPadPublisher

macrumors 6502
Apr 14, 2010
469
59
My understanding is that it’s always been about the function not working well. Apple set out to develop a phone, not a handheld radio. A chip they’ve chosen to help perform the phone’s functions also has some FM utility, but Apple hasn’t spent a lick of energy on engineering the antenna or software to really USE that function. I don’t believe that it’s as simple as turning it ON as the FCC chair is suggesting.

Apple should turn it on, so millions of us get static, to prove how ignorant the request is.

However, I have no idea if any of this is true and for all I know, they could turn it on tomorrow and it’d sound and work fine. Only Apple really knows that.
 

BeyondtheTech

macrumors 68020
Jun 20, 2007
2,123
631
Android devices that utilize the FM chip require the use of wired headphones in the headphone jack as the antenna. I'm not sure Apple has incorporated the functionality of utilizing the Lightning port and Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter as an FM antenna.

Well, at least the iPhone XI has a shot of getting the headphone jack again.
 

miketcool

macrumors 6502a
Jun 24, 2003
872
203
California
What security implications arise from turning on FM? What could be broadcast to the phone via FM, or what could the phone broadcast that wouldn't be detected?
 

macaddiict

macrumors regular
Oct 22, 2005
130
134
Albuquerque, NM
I can understand that there are probably many reasons Apple hasn't activated FM capabilities. In the past, I have used the FM tuner on multiple other phones as well as the tuner built into some iPods. Often, to get a good signal, I would have to have wired headphones plugged in and if I was indoors I'd have to hold the cable away from my body to get a signal.

There is probably some semblance of truth to the whole "disabled due to competition with Apple Music" ... but remember, the FM capability has been built into the iPhone chips for YEARS before Apple Music. So, I bet it has more to do with a good consumer experience than anything else.

People in areas prone to natural disasters would likely welcome this as an emergency tool, and perhaps it could be hidden away in settings on the phone or something. But really, I doubt this will come to pass and I can understand why.
 

NinjaHERO

macrumors 6502a
Aug 29, 2008
899
1,018
U S of A
Unless it kills the battery or some other such nonsense, seems silly to have it in my phone and not be able to use it. Hopefully they turn it on.