Cellphone Voice Call Ban Continues For US Flights

The FCC looks set to continue a ban on voice calls by cellphone users on planes. The commission had previously considered dropping the ban on the grounds it was outdated and increased costs for passengers.

Chairman Ajit Pai has formerly proposed ditching a 2013 plan to eventually allow cellphone calls. That proposal will need a confirmation vote but that appears to be a formality with fellow commissioner Michael O’Rielly backing Pai, enough for a majority vote with only three commissioners currently in office.

Pai’s predecessor Thomas Wheeler developed the plan, arguing that concerns over cellphone interference were no longer relevant given that airlines often use on-board cellphone towers to provide wireless service. He was backed by Mignon Clyburn – who remains on the commission – who argued that lifting the ban would allow wireless companies to compete rather than airlines having a monopoly on providing voice calls to passengers.

Had the plan been adopted, it would have been up to both the Transportation Department and individual airlines to decide if and how wireless cellphone calls were permitted.

Pai’s decision appears largely to be motivated by a preference for passenger comfort rather than any technical concerns. He said “I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in 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.”

The FCC reportedly received more than 1,700 responses to a public consultation, with 96 percent saying the ban should continue. The Transportation Department received more than 5,000 comments, most of them saying the ban was needed to avoid passengers and staff being distracted or irritated by people’s conversations.

Voice calls through VOIP services are currently not covered by the FCC and instead are a matter for individual airlines to allow or ban.

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