By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. communications regulator urged Apple Inc to activate FM radio chips installed in iPhones that would allow Americans to get access to life-saving information when a natural disaster causes wireless networks to go down.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said on Thursday that Apple was the one major phone manufacturer that has not activated the chips.
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"It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first," Pai said in a statement. "I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria."
An Apple spokesman did not immediately comment on Thursday.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, also said Apple should activate the chips.
"The bottom line is consumers need critical information in times of emergency," Nelson said in a statement. "If technologies, such as radio chips, exist that will help do that during times of emergencies, then companies should be doing everything in their power to employ their use."
National Association of Broadcasters Chief Executive Officer Gordon Smith praised bipartisan backing for activating the chips. "We urge Apple to acknowledge the public safety benefits of local broadcasting on SmartPhones and to light up the FM chip," Smith said in a statement.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, also backed the effort asking Apple to activate the chips.
The FCC said on Wednesday that more than 90 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and two-thirds of those in the U.S. Virgin Islands were out of service after hurricanes damaged them.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)