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FCC Chairman Wants FM Radios Activated In Smartphones, But He Won't Push For It

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Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under the administration of President Donald Trump, is known as an enemy of net neutrality.

However, in a speech that Pai gave to the North American Broadcasters Association, the focus was not on recent communications technology, but rather on an old one.

FCC Chairman Wants FM Radios In Smartphones Activated

In Pai's remarks, he expressed his desire for smartphone manufacturers to activate the FM chips that are found across most models.

According to Pai, 90 percent of Americans under 50 years old have access to a smartphone, which has more computing power than Apollo 11, the spacecraft that sent the first man to the moon. Every week, 93 percent of Americans at 12 years old or older still listen to the radio, a figure that has been consistent over the past couple of decades.

Pai then points to the fact that the majority of smartphones in the United States actually contain FM chips in their LTE modems, but are simply not activated. As of the previous fall season, only around 44 percent of the top-selling smartphones in the country have their FM chips activated.

"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 his speech, and he makes a good point.

Pai has been advocating for smartphone makers to activate FM radios for years, and in his speech, he even noted that public safety could be one of the cases that can be made for enabling FM chips in smartphones. This is because FM radio could allow users to receive emergency alerts on their smartphone, even when wireless networks are shut down for whatever reason.

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

Pai Not Making A Move...Yet

Despite his belief that it would be much better for consumers to have the FM radios in their smartphones activated, it does not look like Pai or the government will be doing anything about it soon.

Pai noted that, as a believer of free markets and the rule of law, he will not support any mandate by the government to require the activation of the FM chips found in most smartphones. Pai believes that the issues should be sorted out in the marketplace, and such a thing is already happening with 44 percent of top-selling smartphones now having FM radios enabled compared to less than 25 percent two years ago.

Will smartphone manufacturers enable FM chips in more devices over the coming years? That remains to be seen. For example, with Apple investing heavily into Apple Music, it is not likely that FM radios that can draw away listeners from its music streaming service will be activated in iPhones any time soon.

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