FCC chairman Ajit Pai wants to revitalize the broadcast industry by activating FM chips in Smartphones.
Although the majority of Smartphones sold in the U.S. contain FM chips — a technology enabling phone owners to listen to local radio stations on their device — few of them are activated, Pai told the North American Broadcasters Association’s Future Of Radio And Audio Symposium in Washington, D.C. this week.
In fact, as of last fall, roughly 44 percent of the top-selling handsets in the U.S. had activated FM chips Pai said, adding that the percentage is even lower in Canada. By comparison, in Mexico that number is about 80 percent.
“It’s not just that the United States and Canada could be doing better. We could be doing a lot better,” Pai said. “Simply put, the world is going wireless. And if you’re in the content business, you need to be exploring every way possible to make your content available on people’s Smartphones… 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.”
One benefit to having the chip activated would be enabling Smartphone users to receive broadcast-based EAS alerts and other important information in emergency situations. On a less serious note, it would allow Smartphone owners to access their favorite content over-the-air, while using up far less battery and data.
Pai said while he will continue to speak out about the benefits of activating FM chips, “as a believer in free markets and the rule of law, I cannot support a government mandate” requiring their activation.
“I don’t believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it’s best to sort this issue out in the marketplace,” he said.
While the number of phones in the U.S. with activated chips is still far lower than he would like to see, he said the improvement in the past two years has been encouraging. The activated FM chips rate has risen from less than 25 percent to 44 percent.