FCC rethinks rules about in-flight cell phone use

Last Thursday, the FCC announced that it would consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking comment on potential changes to the rules regarding wireless service aboard aircraft. In short, the FCC is reconsidering the ban on cell-phone usage onboard commercial airplanes. Suffice it to say, the commission has gotten a lot of feedback from the public—enough that it has since issued multiple statements clarifying its initial announcement.

The acting FCC commissioner, Mignon L. Clyburn, said yesterday: "Clearly, the traveling public is concerned about three things—1 safety, 2 security, and 3 a reasonable zone of silence. Government has well-defined rolls concerning the safety and security of Americans. But when it comes to providing a reasonable zone of silence, things are not so well defined. I think it's best to let competition and the marketplace regulate passenger engagements in flight. For while it is impossible for us to impose a gag rule on the flying public, I feel certain the airlines can, and will, find a workable solution."

We reached out to Consumer Reports' Facebook followers about the potential FCC rule change and asked the question "Is this great news or noise pollution?" The response was overwhelming. No one likes the idea of a plane full of chatterboxes. Here's just a small sample of the replies.

"Oh lord, flying is unpleasant enough these days without being subjected to someone else’s conversations happening a few inches from my ear. Please no cell phones on planes."

"Hate the idea of cell phone use on airplanes. It would mean the end of any sort of quiet time for reading or sleeping. And the more people talking on their phone would mean the louder their voices would be. Can you imagine the confrontation when one person asks another to hang up?"

"I fly a lot so I can just imagine the 1,000th call I have to hear that starts with 'Guess where I am calling from. No guess again. No guess again. No guess again. You give up? I’m on a plane!'"

"Please NO! Nowhere to run and too many with no phone etiquette."

"Bring pitchforks."

But digging deeper, we found that many were willing to caveat their prohibition on airline mobile connectivity when it comes to data services.

"Noise pollution. It's already noisy enough in a plane with normal conversations between seat mates. Now we'll have to listen to one-sided meaningless phone calls. Having access to email and the Internet would be awesome."

"No. It is truly unnecessary. Texting, if safe, would be okay."

"Texting maybe but phone calls should not be allowed."

"If allowed should be texting only."

So in the end, if cell service does make its way onto planes, it seems that consumers might actually be interested in Web surfing and texting—something that is currently available only through expensive services such as Gogo Inflight Internet—as long as they don’t have to put up with one another's conversations. If, as Clyburn implied, the decisions about allowable etiquette are ultimately up to the airlines, we'll provide them with one last pithy piece of guidance from our Facebook audience.

"Text only. No voice!"

—Glenn Derene

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