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FCC says no to in-flight calls from wireless phones

The federal agency said too many people thought in-flight mobile phone calls was a bad idea.

The federal agency said too many people thought in-flight mobile phone calls was a bad idea.

(Photo via Pexels/Graphic by The Desk)

The Federal Communications Commission will not take up a proposal that would have allowed passengers and others to make in-flight calls from their mobile phones.

The FCC’s move last week effectively kills a proposal made seven years ago by then-agency chairman Tom Wheeler that sought to green-light wireless phone calls made during domestic airline flights.

Some airlines already allowed passengers to make and receive phone calls on their wireless phones and other devices that were connected to in-flight wireless Internet services, but Wheeler’s proposal would have taken things a step further by allowing customers to make sky-to-land calls using traditional wireless networks.

Wheeler said the proposal was to determine whether that type of activity was technically possible, and the agency head promised it would still be up to each individual airline to determine if they wanted to allow their passengers and crew the option to use their phones in that manner.

The proposal drew strong opposition from airliners, their employees and even passengers who were concerned about everything from annoying phone calls made by others to homeland security issues.

Three years ago, current FCC chairman Ajit Pai said he intended to table the discussion and circulated an order that would formally close the proceedings. Last week, the FCC’s governing body chose to formally terminate the proposal.

“The record is insufficient to determine any reasonable solution that would strike an appropriate balance of competing interests,” the FCC commissioners determined. “There is strong opposition to the commission’s proposals from many commenters in this proceeding, including our nation’s airline pilots and flight attendants, who argue that it ‘fail[s] to address significant safety and national security concerns.'”

Commissioners went on to say that the proposal would “not serve the public interest or be a wise use of the agency’s limited resources to continue to pursue this rule-making proceeding.”

In 2017, Pai said a decision to scrap the proposal would be win for concerned airliner and passengers alike.

“Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet,” he said.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).