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FM Smartphone Chips a Necessity, House Dems Tell Wheeler

WEAs should not be only smartphone warning capability, say Thompson, DeFazio

Two House Democrats are asking FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to view the matter of embedding and activating FM chips in cellphones as a safety necessity.

“We urge you to take every possible action to ensure that the public has every tool in the public alerts and warnings toolbox at its disposal, including access to FM radio through the activation of FM chips already built-into almost all smartphones,” writes Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Transportation Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) in a letter.

They note that while wireless carriers began broadcasting Wireless Emergency Alerts to customers in targeted areas to give notice of severe weather, AMBER Alerts and Presidential alerts, in 2012, WEAs “should not be the only capability available to warn the public on smartphones when technology that could supplement WEAs exists.”

They note that WEAs are limited to 90 characters, and typically, WEAs direct consumers to local media for more information. Given that, “it is unclear to us why the radio chips that are already in most smartphones are deactivated, preventing the public from immediately taking the very action the WEAs prescribe,” state Thompson and DeFazio.

They’re referring to the fact that often FM chips on smartphones sold in the U.S. are deactivated, while those are activated in countries where the smartphone purchasers listen to FM on their device, because they don’t have data plans allowing them to stream music on it.

The representatives also note that a study on smartphone battery life indicates that using the device to listen to FM achieves six times longer battery life when compared to streaming the same local station over a wireless data network. They ask Wheeler “to do everything in your power” to make sure all consumers have access to FM in their devices.