News / Toronto

Toronto councillor to push for FM radio on phones

Motion at Executive Committee this Tuesday the latest in existing efforts to turn on FM radio chips on smartphones.

Mobile service providers are under pressure to activate built-in chips that emit FM radio signals.

File / Torstar News Service

Mobile service providers are under pressure to activate built-in chips that emit FM radio signals.

Toronto is adding its voice to efforts to bring radio access right into your pockets.

A proposal heading to the city’s executive committee Tuesday seeks to pressure mobile service providers as well as manufacturers to activate FM radio receiver capabilities in all smartphone devices sold in Canada.

Smartphones have a built-in chip that can pick up FM radio signals, but the option requires activation from wireless carriers and phone makers – something Coun. Mary Fragedakis who’s fronting the motion thinks companies are deliberately avoiding.

“Data plans are quite a lucrative business,” she said, noting mobile users willing to listen to the radio are left with the streaming option only. “Unlocking the radio chip would reduce data usage, and that’s probably what they’re worried about.”

The proposal – which will seek council blessing next week before city manager sends a missive to local telecom giants – follows a similar campaign currently being run by the National Campus and Community Radio Association.

Called Free Radio On My Phone, the campaign asks people to directly contact Rogers, Telus, Bell and other service providers and demand that they turn on the FM radio chip. Over 2,500 people have signed an online petition to be delivered to CRTC for the same purposes.

In a short statement to Metro, a TELUS spokesperson said the company is aware of the issue and “will review the details of the request” when the city sends it. Other local carriers did not immediately respond to Metro’s questions.

Aside from helping disseminate news and boost the music and entertainment industry, Fragedakis believes easy access to radio signal could be very critical in emergency situations. During the 2013 ice storm, for example, she remembers having to knock on doors of houses and apartments in her ward to deliver information about warming centres and shelters.

“If we had been able to get that message out through FM radios on mobile devices, it would have made it so much easier,” she said. “Climate change is probably the biggest issue of our time, and so these kinds of emergency preparedness become more important.”

South of the border:

  • Sprint was the first mobile service provider to activate FM radio in Android devices in 2013. Other major companies in the United States such as AT&T and T-Mobile have also followed suit.

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