The longer the discussion about Apple’s phantom iPhone FM chip goes on, the murkier it gets. (See my coverage of the controversy here.) Now we have the Chief Technology Officer of the National Association of Broadcasters in the US has waded in with this post.
In recent months, the Southeast U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been pummeled by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The wildfires in California have been equally devastating. These storms and fires have wreaked havoc on communications networks and challenged public safety officials’ ability to get lifeline information to affected residents.
At a time when many Americans have come to rely on their smartphones, massive cellular outages were suffered from Texas to Florida on an even greater scale than in Superstorm Sandy five years ago, and California has also suffered major outages in key locations. In Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it may take weeks and even months to fully restore cellular service because of the damage to the electric grid. This has been a painful reminder of the need for a redundant and pervasive communications infrastructure, especially in times of disaster and emergency.
Radio, television, cellular, satellite, and other communications networks all have a role to play in a crisis. In the wake of these storms, a passionate discussion about activating FM radio in smartphones – and, specifically, Apple’s iPhone – has emerged. This discussion was started by those most impacted by Irma when the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorialized on the issue and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida called for activating FM chips in smartphones. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also issued a public statement calling for Apple to activate FM chips to promote public safety and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also weighed in with her support.
There has been a good bit of technical back and forth since these calls to “light up the chip,” and this is my effort to try and set the record straight.