Pai Wants U.S. Cell Phones to Access AM/FM Radio Using Dormant Chip

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is a supporter of the NextRadio app, the mobile app that consumers can use to listen to FM radio on their smartphones. “The world is going wireless,” and radio needs to go there too, he told attendees of the North American Broadcasters Association meeting in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

Most smartphones sold in the U.S. and worldwide contain FM chips, however many models don’t have that feature activated here, he said. “As of last fall, only about 44 percent of the top selling smartphones in the United States have activated FM chips, and the percentage is lower in Canada. By comparison, in Mexico that number is about 80 percent. So it’s not just that the United States and Canada could be doing better, according to Pai, “We could be doing a lot better.”

Consumers would love to access some of their favorite content over-the-air, while using one-sixth of the battery life and less data, he said during NABA’s Radio and Audio Symposium held at NAB Headquarters in Washington, D.C. But Pai made it clear he’s not in favor of a chip mandate to require chip activation in the devices. The marketplace is the best place “to sort this issue out,” Pai said, noting that there has been progress over the last two years, as the percentage of top-selling smartphones in the United States that have activated FM chips has risen from less than 25 percent to 44 percent.

A fan of radio since childhood, especially AM, Pai assured attendees he will fight for the medium at the FCC, working “aggressively to cut red tape” and modernize the rules. But as FCC Chairman, he can’t favor any one industry and said he would not “put my thumb on the scale for any segment” of it.

He characterized how he sees radio, up against mobile broadband and fiber, in NBA basketball terms. “For two decades, the Spurs have been the sport’s least flashy, yet most consistently successful team. They’re rarely seen as the dominant team in the league, but they are always in contention for a championship. So the talented and headline-grabbing Golden State Warriors might be mobile broadband. And the powerful Cleveland Cavaliers might be gigabit fiber. But the steady-as-a-rock Spurs are radio.”

February 17, 2017


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