FCC chairman asks telecos to provide FM radio on smartphones

20 February 2017

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has proposed that FM radio on smartphones be activated to allow users to tune in to radio shows.

Most smartphones in the US come with FM built in radio receivers, but getting a signal from local radio stations, was difficult as the antennas were largely inactive.

"As of last fall, only about 44 per cent of the top-selling smartphones in the United States have activated FM chips," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said at an industry conference on Thursday. "By comparison, in Mexico that number is about 80 per cent."

Pai called on companies to switch on FM chips that had been supported by the nation's broadcasters. According to Pai, the move could allow smartphone users to save on their data usage and to get the same emergency alerts that drivers got in their cars.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency the ability to get those alerts in a crisis, such as when internet networks were down, could save lives.

However, the FCC is unable to force carriers such as Verizon or manufacturers like Apple to switch on the chips since the FCC did not have the Congressional authority to issue a mandate.

"It seems odd that every day we hear about a new smartphone app that lets you do something innovative, yet these modern-day mobile miracles don't enable a key function offered by a 1982 Sony Walkman," Pai said in a speech at the North American Broadcasters Association.

The FCC chairman also pointed out the benefit of enabled FM radios in smartphones, as consumers would be able to access their favourite over-the-air content at just one-sixth of the consumed battery life and less utilised data, compared to media streaming services.

However, the wireless industry's top trade association opposed the idea leading to the issue being deadlocked, say commentators.

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