FCC chairman and owner of annoyingly large mugs Ajit Pai is demanding that Apple activate FM radio chips in iPhones in the name of public safety. A public statement from Pai and the FCC, released Thursday, comes on the heels of the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, which managed to knock out cellular, internet and cable reception for millions of Americans. Pai’s point is that iPhones enabled with FM chips can pick up essential emergency communications during extreme weather events.
There’s just one problem: iPhones don’t have FM chips anymore. They haven’t been included in iPhones since the 6S, so the idea that Pai could simply demand Apple activate a switch in its products is pretty bizarre — since that switch doesn’t exist.
In response to Pai’s comments, Apple released the following statement:
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.
All radio-frequency devices need to be authorized by the FCC before they can be sold in the U.S. Apple is claiming that the iPhone 7, 8 and X don’t possess the hardware to accommodate FM signals, and all models are currently being sold in the U.S. Therefor, either Apple is lying about the new phone’s hardware, or the FCC’s statement is misleading. By time of writing, the FCC couldn’t be reached for comment.
Nobody is denying that there could be a profit incentive to inhibiting radio in favor of apps, and Apple definitely did hold out on activating the FM tuner built into its older models while other providers enabled it on Androids. The move was viewed as problematic by many, from a public safety perspective. But asking Apple to do something to its product that it literally can’t could also be a scapegoat strategy for the FCC.
The agency has come under fire for not yet holding any hearings following hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria. After Hurricane Sandy, the FCC held hearings to inform their recovery efforts and help them prepare for future disasters. No such hearings have been announced yet following this year’s massive storms. According to a CNN report, only 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s cell towers are currently functioning, so clearly there is work to be done. But improving emergency communication definitely won’t come from turning on a switch that doesn’t exist.