FCC: Airlines Will Be the Ones Deciding Whether to Allow In-Flight Calls

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 23 2013 1:28 PM

FCC: Airlines Will Be the Ones Deciding Whether to Allow In-Flight Calls

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Hillary Clinton talks on her cell phone as she takes her seat to fly to Indianapolis, Indiana during the 2008 Democratic primaries

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Seems the backlash was too much. Shortly after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said that it was time to review “our outdated and restrictive rules” on the use of mobile phones on airplanes, the outrage was immediate. Just three weeks into his job, Wheeler seems to have underestimated just how much of a nerve the move was going to strike with the public, not to mention all the media attention it would generate, notes the Associated Press. Wheeler later took a step back, saying in a statement that he doesn’t like the idea one bit, but it would be up to the airlines to make the decision.

"We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself," Wheeler said in a statement. He emphasized though that there is “no technical reason” to prevent mobile phone use in planes, and the FCC’s only role is to advise airlines on whether there is a safety issue involved. "Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines' decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while in flight," Wheeler said, according to Reuters. He added that the FCC would in no way “impose any requirement that arilines should provide voice connectivity.”

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The FCC is scheduled to vote on the issue at its December 12 meeting. So far, most of the airlines have said they will study the issue once the FCC issues a ruling. The one exception has been Delta that outright rejected the idea of in-flight voice calls.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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