FCC to consider allowing cell phone calls on planes - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

FCC to consider allowing cell phone calls on planes

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKOW) -- New chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, said in a statement Thursday the commission is proposing greater in-flight access to mobile broadband, and that the proposal will be considered at the commission's December 12 meeting.

Federal regulators are claiming rules against making cell phone calls during airline flights are "outdated," drawing protests from flight attendants, airline officials and others.

"The time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," Wheeler said in the statement, adding that modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably.

The proposal would also allow passengers to use their smart phones to send email, text and download data. The proposal would apply to flights when they are over 10,000 feet in altitude, but not during takeoffs and landings.

The move came just 16 days after Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cellular telephone industry, took over the post of FCC chairman.

Reaction from the airline industry and labor unions was skeptical. Flight attendants and others have worried that a plane full of chattering passengers could lead to arguments and undermine safety.

"Passengers overwhelmingly reject cell phone use in the aircraft cabin. The FCC should not proceed with this proposal," the Association of Flight Attendants said in a statement in response to the FCC chairman's comments.

Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Hudson Crossing, said, "Unlike the ability to use their personal electronics and Wi-Fi from gate to gate, passengers don't want this. The constant chatter of passengers on their mobile phones has the potential to further increase tension among already stressed-out passengers. It will be a catalyst for increased cases of 'air rage.'"

In October, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted restrictions on the use of most personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, but not cell phone calls, which fall under the FCC.

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