FCC moves to lift ban on cellphone calls on planes

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Amid debate over safety, air rage and courtesy in the air, the Federal Communications Commission approved the first step in allowing passengers on airplanes to use cellphones in flight.

The “notice of rule making” approved by a 3-2 vote Thursday means the FCC will now take comments from the public and experts before returning at a later date for a vote on lifting the agency’s ban on cellphone use in the air.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who supported lifting the ban, made it clear that the FCC’s decision does not require airlines to allow cellphone calls, even if the agency’s ban is lifted. He said each individual airline must still install technology that will prevent cell calls from disrupting communications with cell towers.


Wheeler said airlines can continue to ban voice service but allow passengers to use their smartphones to send emails and texts and to surf the Web.

“This is a technological rule,” he said. “This is a rule about technology.”

FCC members who opposed to rule said allowing cellphone calls on planes could jeopardize safety, either by allowing terrorists to communicate or trigger explosive devices or by prompting disputes between passengers over noisy conversations.

“This proposal has been generating negative responses from those who work on planes,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “I think our safety would be compromised.”

Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued a statement saying his department may consider adopting a ban on cellphone calls following an outcry from the public and members of Congress over the FCC’s actions.


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