Emmis Communications head Jeff Smulyan has been adamantly vocal on his failure to sway Apple on the activation of FM chips in all iPhone headsets. The South Florida Sun Sentinel, following Hurricane Irma’s march through the region Sept. 9-11, on Sept. 15 published an impassioned editorial imploring Apple to turn on its FM chips across its iPhone products.
Now, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has joined in the fight for FM chip activation in all iPhones by pleading to Apple to activate them at once in the name of public safety.
In a statement released Thursday morning, Pai noted that in recent years he has “repeatedly” called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the U.S., specifically pointing out the public safety benefits of doing so.
“In fact, in my first public speech after I became Chairman, I observed that ‘[You could make a case for activating chips on public safety grounds alone,'” Pai said. “When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life-saving information.”
Without mentioning Samsung, LG or Alphabet Inc. for allowing for the activation of FM chips in Android-powered smartphones, he applauded “those companies that have done the right thing” by activating the FM chips in their phones.
That’s when Pai took aim at Apple and its head, Tim Cook.
“Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so,” said Pai, “but I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria … It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first.”
Pai concluded his comments by referencing the Sun Sentinel editorial, which wrote, “Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it.”
NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith said the broadcast media industry’s chief lobbying organization salutes Pai for his strong support for voluntary activation of FM radio chips in Apple iPhones.
“Local broadcasters are a lifeline information source in times of crisis, as Chairman Pai, Sen. Bill Nelson(D-Fla.) and other members of Congress and the FCC have noted. We urge Apple to acknowledge the public safety benefits of local broadcasting on SmartPhones and to light up the FM chip.”
The timing of Pai’s comments, however, will likely be examined by Democrats who will call them reactionary.
That’s because FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel took to Twitter following the Sept. 26 September Open Meeting by berating her agency for failing to adequate address the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, where as of Wednesday at 11am nearly 91% of cell phone towers were inoperable. Power supplies were still limited across the territory, packaged goods sat in the Port of San Juan undelivered, and just NBCUniversal’s Telemundo Puerto Rico (WKAQ-2) was broadcasting.
A RBR+TVBR scan of Puerto Rico radio stations Wednesday evening found that Univision Radio‘s WKAQ-FM “KQ105” returned to its Spanish Top 40 format, breaking away from its simulcast of News/Talk WKAQ-AM 580. Streaming audio for two Spanish Broadcasting System (SBS) stations that had returned to the air — Latin Urban WODA-FM 94.7 “La Nueva” and Hot Talk/Spanish Top 40 WMEG-FM 106.9 “La Mega” — were again inoperable after one day that found each station in automation.
On Twitter, Rosenworcel said, “The
@FCC should hold hearings in Texas, Florida & Puerto Rico to understand impact of hurricanes on communications.”
She then provided a link to her official statement on the matter, in which Rosenworcel commented, “When these devastating hurricanes began to batter our coastlines, I called for a full Commission report on these storms. We need to know what worked, what didn’t, and where we can improve our communications infrastructure. Once we know the facts, we need a full plan for fixing the communications vulnerabilities we are finding, including how to deal with the impact on 911 and the interactions between social media and emergency response.”
Elaborating on her Tweet, Rosenworcel continued, “I believe you don’t pull together a report with only the information you amass from sitting in front of your keyboard. You get out. I think the Commission should demonstrate its commitment to the first sentence in the Communications Act—which seeks to focus our energies on public safety—and demonstrate we know how to make those words ring true.”
How should the FCC do that? Through hearings in Texas, Florida and la isla del encanto, where some 3 million American citizens are threatened by a multitude of post-hurricane disasters, “as soon as feasible.”
Rosenworcel continues, “There is ample precedent for this approach—it was used in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. I know from my experience you learn more out on the ground than you do sitting on this dais. I hope this agency has the guts to do this. I, for one, look forward to traveling with my colleagues—and making this happen.”
Pai offered a response, also going to Twitter. Saying, “This will be a long road,” the FCC Chairman said as he noted the Commission continues to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Pai also noted that on Sept. 23-24 he spoke with “most of the CEOs or representatives” of the largest national wireless service providers serving Puerto Rico. These companies are different than in the U.S. mainland, with Latin American giant Claro a major cell service company in Puerto Rico. “In those conversations, I made it clear that the FCC stands ready to do whatever we can to assist these companies in restoring communications throughout the island.”
Small, if any, progress has been seen since Sunday, although Claro is in the process of opening their cell towers to all, regardless of network. This requires cellular phone users to power down and restart their device.