FCC Kills In-Flight Cell Phone Proposal

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The FCC Monday terminated a proceeding to allow in-flight cell phone calls, citing strong opposition from the airline industry.

The idea originated in 2013 under Chairman Tom Wheeler. The agency proposed allowing cell phone calls at altitudes above 10,000 feet. The mobile wireless communications services would have been allowed where an aircraft was equipped with a specialized picocell or other platform designed to minimize the risk of interference to terrestrial wireless networks.

But based on the response, the Commission decided to close the proceeding, saying the record was not enough to figure out a “reasonable solution” to strike a balance between “competing interests.”  

Fearing air rage, industry groups like the Association of Flight Attendants and Airline Pilots Association International opposed it, saying it didn’t address safety and national security concerns, according to the FCC.

In-flight cell phone use is more common in Europe and other countries. Telecoms AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, as well as trade group CTIA and manufacturer Panasonic, told the Commission that studies of international operations “may not reflect whether onboard mobile communications can be safely permitted” in this country, and that “rigorous technical studies” based on American-based standards would be needed.

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