Technology

New FCC Chairman Rejects Earlier Proposal To Allow In-flight Voice Calls

Air travelers will not be allowed to use cell phones at high altitude. A proposal that was rolled out earlier by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has now been withdrawn by federal regulators. If the proposal had been accepted, passengers would have been allowed to use cell phones at higher altitudes, except during take-off and landing.

FCC in-flight FCC voice call
OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

New FCC chairman not in favor of proposal

When proposing it in 2013, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stated that advanced airplanes are equipped with better technology, and therefore, the long-standing ban could be lifted. However, new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai disagreed with the proposal, saying that the plan was “ill-conceived” and that it did not serve the public interest.

“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,” Pai said.

However, he chose to keep the reason of withdrawing the proposal to himself.

At the time Wheeler proposed the idea, he stated that modern technologies are enough to offer mobile service in the air reliably and safely, and therefore, it is time to scrap such outdated and restrictive rules. However, Wheeler’s proposal had very few takers even then, as it was criticized and the FCC never implemented it, notes Ars Technica.

Several government officials and lawmakers were in favor of additional bans and restrictions that would have prevented in-flight calls even if the FCC ban was eliminated. For instance, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated in December 2013 that the department was considering banning in-flight calls, according to Ars Technica.

The Consumer Technology Association was one group that supported the withdrawal of the ban on in-flight calls, but it declined to comment. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which opposed the proposal at that time, welcomed the stay, notes The Washington Post. Taylor Garland, a spokesman for the labor union, stated that the FCC has made the right decision, as the traveling public and crew members do not want voice calls on planes.

When asked if the union also has a stand on the use of cellular data on planes, Garland said, “Due diligence requires a thorough assessment of the potential security risks… and mitigation of any risks.”

Not many takers for in-flight voice calls

As of now, there are about two dozen foreign airlines that allow calls at cruising altitude. AeroMobile Communications stated that typically, 5% of passengers on flights bound for the U.S. make calls, which last for two minutes, on average. However, U.S. regulators received over 1,700 comments, with 96% in favor of the ban, 2% in favor of the ban except in emergencies, and 2% stating that airlines should be allowed to set their own norms, according to USA Today.

Not many people have the option of getting a cellular signal at 30,000 feet, but advanced technology has made it easier to get cellular networks in the air. Mediums such as communication satellites, lasers and even drones have been proposed to get better connectivity in remote areas.

It must be noted that the FCC did not make any amendments to the guidelines for Wi-Fi calls through services like Skype. There are no federation regulations governing WI-Fi calls during flights, although most U.S. airlines restrict all voice calls, notes USA Today.