DOT Considers Aircraft Cellphone Ban

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The FCC's proposal to scrap its ban on cellphone use in aircraft has prompted the Department of Transportation to consider a ban of its own. It's now the FCC that technically keeps us all from using a cell phone while in an aircraft of any type but the focus of the current action is for passengers aboard airliners. The issue used to be that using a cell phone high above the ground would screw up the ground-based transmitter system but that hasn't been a real issue for some time. That's the anachronism the FCC wants to tackle with its repeal of the current ban. The prospect of cellphones ringing and people talking in the cabins of the nation's airliners has become the new issue and one that DOT is uncharacteristically addressing. Even so, there appears to be common ground between the two bodies on the potential cacophany."I'm the last person in the world who wants to listen to somebody talking" while on an airplane, FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler told a House subcommittee last Thursday. But he also said there's no practical reason to ban cellphone use on aircraft anymore so the FCC has voted 3-2 to start the public comment period on removing the law. "There is a need to recognize that there is a new technology," said Wheeler. "This is a technical rule. It is a rule about technology. It is not a rule of usage." The DOT, which is usually technically oriented in matters like this, announced it might invoke its "consumer protection role" in considering its own rule against cellphone use.

In a statement, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said a variety of stakeholders have raised concerns about cellphone use in the air. "Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cellphones in flight and I am concerned about this possibility as well," Foxx said in a statement. Since using a cellphone in the air no longer causes issues with networks on the ground Wheeler said airlines, not the government, should have the final say on the cabin environment they want to sell.