In-Flight Calls May Be Legalized By The FCC -- And Then Banned By The DOT

Francesco totti plane phoneREUTERSThe FCC is considering lifting an old ban on in-flight phone calls, and the DOT is looking at a new one.

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to consider lifting a ban on in-flight mobile phone calls, it announced in an open meeting this afternoon.

The current ban on in-flight calls was put in place in 1991 to avoid phones interfering with ground-based communications, according to USA Today.

Due to changes in technology, such interference is no longer considered a threat.

In a House hearing on Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler said “where the rationale for the rule doesn’t exist, the rule shouldn’t exist.”

Now that the safety-related rationale for banning calls seems outdated, the Department of Transportation announced it is considering issuing its own ban on in-flight calls as a consumer protection measure.

In a statement, Secretary Anthony Foxx told POLITICO his agency’s role, “as part of our Aviation Consumer Protection Authority, it to determine if allowing these phone calls is fair to consumers.”

Such a ban would likely find public support. In a statement, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said calls should not be allowed without “contemplating whether it improves the travel experience, and there are some strong indications that travellers themselves do not want it.

“Polls we have seen by Quinnipiac University, the Associated Press and others,” he continued, “have concluded that the public opposed in-flight phone calls by very convincing margins.”

Going forward, an FCC task force will set ground rules for how to determine if making calls in the air is safe and how to address legal and policy questions lifting the ban would raise.

At the end of October, the FAA announced it would allow passenger use of electronic devices during all phases of flight, provided phones be kept in “plane mode” — unable to make calls or send text messages.

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