FCC nixes idea of cell phones on planes for now
The FCC released an order terminating its proceeding to examine whether cellular phones could be used on board airplanes but acknowledged that the item could be reconsidered in the future.
Citing “insufficient technical information” to determine whether using cellular phones on airplanes would be harmful to terrestrial networks or to aircraft operations, the FCC said it would be “premature” to make a ruling at this time.
“Because it appears that airlines, manufacturers and wireless providers are still researching the use of cell phones and other [personal electronic devices] onboard aircraft, we do not believe that seeking further comment at this juncture will provide us with the necessary technical information in the near term,” the FCC order states. “Accordingly, we conclude that this proceeding should be terminated. We may, however, reconsider this issue in the future if appropriate technical data is available for our review.”
Three European carriers have announced trials and implementation of cellular systems on airplanes, which seems to undermine any arguments regarding the technical feasibility and safety of such service, said Paul O’Keefe, BusinessEdge Solutions’ wireless practice partner. However, many FCC filings noted the considerable expense that would be associated with cellular calling from airplanes, which may dampen carriers’ enthusiasm for the idea, he said.
“I wonder if part of it is posturing by the carriers saying, ‘We’re not ready to support it,’ because clearly the technology works in Europe,” O’Keefe said.
Roger Entner, senior vice president of communications for IAG Research, echoed the notion that technology is not the issue, noting that Wi-Fi access is allowed on planes — in theory, enabling voice-over-IP (VoIP) calling. Entner said he believes the commission was influenced considerably by numerous filings that expressed concern about passengers talking too much or too loudly during flights.
“While there’s really no evidence that using cell phones [on planes] truly impacts [terrestrial networks], I don’t think [FCC commissioners] wanted to expose themselves to the collective wrath of airplane passengers when people talk about their most secretive exploits or business endeavors,” he said. “I think, in the end, it’s more about appeasing public opinion than technical details. If they really wanted to, they could have figured it out.”