US paves way for in-flight cell phones

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By ROB LEVER in Wash­ing­ton Agence France-Presse

US reg­u­la­tors on Thurs­day opened the door to al­low­ing mo­bile phone use on air­planes — an is­sue that has stirred howls of protest over the po­ten­tial for dis­rup­tion in the skies.

The Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Com­mis­sion’s 3- 2 vote came af­ter Chair­man Tom Wheeler said the ac­tion would merely pub­lish new rules for pub­lic com­ment and de­ter­mine the tech­ni­cal fea­si­bil­ity of in-flight phone use.

“This is a rule about tech­nol­ogy; this is not a rule about us­age,” Wheeler said ahead of the vote.

He added that the is­sue has been “widely mis­un­der­stood” and that the agency was seek­ing only to de­ter­mine if there are tech­ni­cal rea­sons for ban­ning call­ing.

“If the ba­sis for the rule is no longer valid, then the rule is no longer valid. It’s that sim­ple,” he said.

Some 60 mem­bers of Congress signed a let­ter urg­ing the reg­u­la­tory agency to al­low only text and In­ter­net ser­vices in- flight, with no voice calls on cel­lu­lar phones.

Wheeler said, how­ever, that po­ten­tial prob­lems should be ad­dressed in the rule- mak­ing process and that other agen­cies as well as air­lines would be charged with de­ter­min­ing whether to per­mit voice calls dur­ing flight.

“With­out this pro­posal, you would not be able to e-mail or to text or surf the Web,” Wheeler said. Sep­a­rately, US Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary An­thony Foxx noted that the FCC’s only role “is to ex­am­ine the tech­ni­cal fea­si­bil­ity of the use of mo­bile de­vices in-flight.”

Foxx said in a state­ment that his agency’s re­spon­si­bil­ity “is to de­ter­mine if al­low­ing th­ese calls is fair to con­sumers” and that it “will now be­gin a process that will look at the pos­si­bil­ity of ban­ning th­ese in-flight calls.”

FCC mem­ber Jes­sica Rosen­wor­cel voted to move ahead on the pro­posal but voiced con­cern over the prospect of in-flight calls.

Rosen­wor­cel said that even though FCC mem­bers were con­sid­er­ing the mat­ter as “tech­ni­cians,” that “does not ab­solve our­selves of the con­se­quences of our de­ci­sion.”

She added that she feared an end to the pre­vail­ing quiet at­mos­phere in air­plane cab­ins and ex­pressed con­cern “that our safety would be com­pro­mised” by al­low­ing such calls.

Com­mis­sioner Ajit Pai voted against the pro­posal, say­ing it “sets an un­for­tu­nate prece­dent when it comes to li­cens­ing” of a spec­trum for in-flight com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Pai said the pro­posal might grant the spec­trum to air­lines at a time when mo­bile op­er­a­tors are spend­ing “tens of bil­lions” of dol­lars in spec­trum auc­tions.

Pai also said safety and na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns had not been prop­erly ad­dressed and he was dis­ap­pointed there had been no com­ment from law en­force­ment agen­cies.

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