Trump's FCC Boss Blasts Apple For Refusing To 'Turn On' FM iPhone Chipsets That Don't Actually Exist
from the yeah,-whoops dept
If you’ve seen current FCC Ajit Pai’s name in print so far this year, it’s probably for any number of his extremely anti-consumer, telecom industry friendly positions. Like his attempts to kill net neutrality, his support of gutting consumer broadband privacy protections, his efforts to protect the cable industry’s cable box monopoly from competition, efforts to dramatically reduce media consolidation rules, his defense of prison phone monopoly price gouging, or the way he’s making it harder for Americans to get affordable broadband.
To obfuscate this arguably-lopsided agenda, Pai has been busy trying to portray himself as somebody notably other than the revolving door regulator he actually is.
For example, Pai has repeatedly insisted that he’s a heroic advocate for closing the digital divide, even while simultaneously weakening broadband deployment standards and eroding all oversight of historically-despised mono/duopolists like Comcast. Similarly, Pai spent many of his first months in office insisting he’d be breathlessly dedicated to transparency, yet the FCC boss has already been sued for refusing to document his communications with incumbent ISPs regarding net neutrality, or to provide hard data on why his agency appears to have hallucinated a DDoS attack.
Last week, Pai trotted out yet another effort to try and portray himself as an unwavering ally to consumers. In a missive posted to the FCC website (pdf), Pai lambasted Apple for refusing to turn on the FM radio chipsets embedded in iPhones, something he was quick to proclaim was a major affront to the safety and security of the nation’s wireless subscribers:
“Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That?s why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones. It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first. As the Sun Sentinel of South Florida put it, ?Do the right thing, Mr. Cook. Flip the switch. Lives depend on it.??
And while that may look like Pai was busy trying to do a good thing, Apple was forced to issue a public statement pointing out that the chipsets Pai wants turned on — don’t actually exist:
“Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that?s why we have 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. 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.”
And while some older iPhone models do have such chipsets, they don’t have the embedded antennas necessary to effectively utilize them. In many instances, the FM functionality is just part of an overall “system on a chip” (SOC) that technically contains the functionality, but isn’t actually capable of being turned on. Pai appears to have drawn his information from this similarly incorrect Florida news report, something ten minutes of research could have clarified. From some additional commentary from Apple evangelist John Gruber:
“I?ve dug around, and what I?ve been told is that there is an FM radio chip in older iPhones, but it?s not connected, and there?s no antenna designed for FM radio. The chip is just part of a commodity component part, and Apple only connected the parts of the chip that the iPhones were designed to use. No iPhone was ever designed to be an FM radio, and there is no ?switch? that can be ?flipped? ? nor software update that could be issued ? that could turn them into one. It?s a complete technical misconception.
What?s absurd is that the FCC commissioner would take his understanding of the iPhone?s technical capabilities from a newspaper editorial rather than from Apple?s own FCC regulatory filings, which I?m pretty sure would show that they?re not capable of acting as FM radios.
If that’s the level of Pai’s fact-checking before accusing Apple of harming the safety of the “American people,” it leaves you wondering just how much homework Pai has done before deciding to “take a weedwhacker” (his words) to essential consumer protections on the telecom front.