Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has been criticized for his agency’s response to recent hurricanes, and on Thursday Pai tried to shift some of the attention to Apple. But the nation’s top communications regulator may have been making demands of Apple that are technically impossible to fulfill.
In his statement, Pai demanded that Apple (AAPL) “activate” FM radio capabilities in iPhones so that people in areas where wireless networks have been knocked out due the hurricanes could at least get access to information about disasters on the radio.
“I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones,” Pai said. “It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first.”
The problem is that models of the iPhone 7 and new iPhone 8 don’t have FM chips that can be activated, according to Apple. “iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products,” the company said in a statement to the site Macrumors.com.
And earlier models that have the chip don’t have antennas to pick up FM radio signals nor the capability to be activated by Apple, according to sources who spoke to Apple columnist John Gruber.
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Wireless networks in many areas were knocked out of commission by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The FCC said this week that 91% of the wireless network in Puerto Rico was still out, for example. After storms in prior years, the FCC held hearings to look into the repair efforts, but has not yet scheduled any following the recent storms. That prompted critical comments from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “After Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy @FCC held hearings to address network recovery,” Rosenworcel tweeted earlier this week. “Why won’t agency do it for Harvey, Irma & Maria?”
On Tuesday, Pai responded, saying he had visited some areas hit by the disasters and been in contact with wireless carriers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others. While the FCC at some point will need to study what happened to better prepare for future emergencies, “at this very moment…our primary focus must continue to be on recovery,” he said.