The Federal Communications Committee is soliciting public feedback on the possibility of allowing airline passengers to talk on cell phones and use their data plans while in flight. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also examining the issue, after a public response critical of lifting the current ban on such use.
Airline passengers can currently only use cellular and tablet devices with data enabled before the flight takes off and after it lands, but must power down or turn off data and voice services during the flight. These rules were in place because it was believed to be unsafe to use voice and data services without interfering with flight technology.
"In the past two decades, technology and engineering has evolved, and specialized onboard systems that can effectively prevent interference with wireless networks on the ground have been designed and successfully deployed internationally," wrote the FFC in its announcement.
"In addition, while consumer use of mobile phones for voice has declined in recent years, use of tablets and smartphones for wireless data has exploded. Global mobile data traffic is predicted to increase thirteen fold by 2017. Consumers are ever more dependent on reliable, high speed connectivity at all places, at all times – including when flying," the FCC added.
If the FCC decides to lift the ban, airlines would have the option to equip their aircraft with frequency bands to safely support the use of cell phones. They would not be obligated to do so, and would be able to control the Internet, e-mail, text and possibly voice services available to passengers.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said there is no reason for the government to ban use of cellular devices in flight if there is no danger of interfering with flight technology. Yet Wheeler said he doesn’t think passengers should be able to actually talk on their phones during the trip, something nearly half of Americas agree with. Forty-eight percent of Americans in an Associated Press-GfK poll opposed allowing voice calls during flight, while only 19 percent support it. Many are wary of fellow passengers talking too loudly or for too long during flights.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his department will look at a process to ban voice calls, after hearing concerns from many that the possibility would create an unpleasant environment on airplanes.
"As the FCC has said before, their sole role on this issue is to examine the technical feasibility of the use of mobile devices in flight," Foxx said in a statement. "We believe USDOT’s role, as part of our Aviation Consumer Protection Authority, is to determine if allowing these calls is fair to consumers."
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