FCC to discuss lifting cellphone ban on in-flight voice calls and cellular data

iOS 7 (Airplane Mode 001)

After the United States Federal Aviation Administration appeased travelers by permitting airlines to finally expand the use of smartphones, tablets and other personal electronics devices during nearly all phases of flight, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now mulling letting passengers make in-flight voice calls and use cellular data when above 10,000 feet.

Current regulation mandates passengers to put their devices in Airplane mode, which shuts down all radios, thereby reducing any possible interference with the avionics.

However, only specially equipped planes will support making in-flight phone calls and accessing cellular data, should the proposal pass the FCC’s December meeting…

The Wall Street Journal has the story:

The Federal Communications Commission will propose allowing passengers to use their cellphones on airplanes, people familiar with the matter said.

While phone use would still be restricted during takeoff and landing, the proposal would lift an FCC ban on airborne calls and cellular data use by passengers once a flight reaches 10,000 feet, an FCC official said.

The FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a prepared statement that “the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” in respect to concerns that the airborne use of personal electronics could interfere with aircraft systems. The current regulation also cites potential interference with wireless networks on the ground.

Gogo, the popular in-flight Wi-Fi provider, recently rolled out an interesting feature that allows busy travelers to send or receive text messages and phone calls using their own phone number. Because Gogo’s system uses its own in-flight Wi-Fi to route VoIP calls, Gogo’s new offering requires no new equipment.

Though I’m just scater-shooting here, the FCC’s proposal would most likely require airlines  to retrofit their fleet with additional equipment.

This isn’t the first time the FCC tried to lift gadget restrictions. In a similar vein, the agency back in 2007 proposed a set of relaxed restrictions regarding in-flight gadget use. They ultimately shot the proposal down because the agency was concerned by a “lack of technical information upon which we may base a decision”.

The FCC’s new proposal will be released as a Notice of Proposed Rule Making, inviting comments on the idea before making a final decision. The entire process “could take months,” the Journal notes.

Great, now I have to cope with a likely possibility of having to listen to other people’s cell phone conversations 10,000 feet in the air!