FCC says Apple should activate iPhones' FM radio chip, but newer phones don't have

Apple's new iPhone 8 (R) and 8 Plus are seen after they go on sale at the Apple Store in Tokyo's Omotesando shopping district, Japan, September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. communications regulator urged Apple Inc on Thursday to activate FM radio chips in iPhones that would allow Americans access to life-saving information when a natural disaster takes out wireless networks, but the company said its newer models do not have the chips.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Apple was the one major phone manufacturer that has not activated the chips.

“I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria,” Pai said in a statement.

But Apple, in its own statement, said newer iPhone 7 and 8 models do not have FM chips “nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.”

The company added that it has “engineered modern safety solutions into our products. Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts.”

FCC officials said it is unclear whether the agency would have regulatory authority to require a company to activate the chips. The FCC did not immediately reply to Apple’s disclosure that new phones do not have the chips.

The FCC said that more than 90 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and two-thirds of those in the U.S. Virgin Islands remain out of service after hurricanes damaged them.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Dan Grebler