FCC Votes to Lift Ban On In-Flight Smartphone Use

Dennis Faas's picture

Tired of being told not to use your smartphone on a commercial flight? There's good news. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to lift the long-running and often criticized ban on in-flight cell / smartphone use.

The FCC voted 3-2 in favor of ditching the measure late last week. But there's still one major hurdle left: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has final say on whether or not you should be allowed to use a handheld electronic device while a plane is in the air.

"The FAA is the expert agency on determining which devices can be used on airplanes," noted FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

Cellphones No Longer a Clear Threat to Safety

However, as the "expert agency when it comes to technical communications issues," Wheeler acknowledged that the FCC's vote certainly carries weight.

"Our mandate from Congress is to oversee how networks function," Wheeler said.

"Technology has produced a new network reality recognized by governments and airlines around the world. Our responsibility is to recognize that new reality's impact on our old rules." (Source: cnet.com)

The original ban on in-flight cellphone use was introduced two decades ago, when the first handsets began appearing in airports.

The FCC initiated the ban because it believed cellphones could interfere with airport networks, making communications between a flight crew and ground-based navigation teams less reliable.

However, Wheeler suggested that new evidence has indicated it's unlikely cellphones and smartphones disrupt these communications.

Voice Call Ban Still Possible

Still, there are concerns beyond safety. For example, Wheeler suggested allowing people to use smartphones mid-flight could prove quite annoying for other passengers.

"I do not want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else," Wheeler told Congress. (Source: pcworld.com)

Another FCC commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, wholeheartedly agreed, stating that she prefers peace and quiet when traveling.

There are also FCC commissioners, such as Jessica Rosenworcel, who aren't yet convinced it's completely safe to allow smartphone use on commercial flights.

One thing's for sure: the FAA will need to be absolutely certain about everyone's safety before it gives passengers the green light to use their favorite handheld devices.

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