FCC Chairman Advocates For Turning On Phones’ FM Chips

February 17, 2017 - Written By Dominik Bosnjak

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stated that he believes FM tuners present in nearly all contemporary smartphones should be turned on, allowing consumers to listen to FM radio stations. While addressing the North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) on Thursday, Pai described the matter as a public safety issue, noting how radio is still a dependable source of information, especially in situations in which users are unable to access the Internet. Regardless of his stance, the Trump-appointed FCC Chairman said how he doesn’t believe the U.S. government should mandate the activation of FM chips present in smartphones, adding how that approach would go against his belief in free markets. Pai also noted how he doesn’t believe the FCC’s jurisdiction extends to this issue and said that the matter should be settled by the market itself.

Being a member of the Republican Grand Old Party (GOP), it isn’t surprising that Pai’s stances on the matter reflect the general views of his political party which has traditionally advocated for free markets and less regulation on both the state and federal level. The FCC Chairman is far from the first person to advocate for turning on the FM tuners of modern smartphones as an FCC advisory panel on public safety previously expressed similar stances and was also backed by Craig Fugate, the former Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appointed by former President Obama in mid-2009. The decision on whether to activate an FM chip in a smartphone is technically down to its manufacturer, but it’s usually up to the wireless service provider. Given how all major carriers in the country have previously shown signs of being willing to activate FM chips in Android phones and some already support that functionality of certain devices, it’s possible that Pai’s comments will prompt an industry-wide change in this regard.

In related news, Pai recently put an end to several investigations into zero-rating practices in the United States which were initiated by his predecessor Tom Wheeler. That move was criticized by some politicians and industry experts who interpreted it as the first step towards killing net neutrality.