Congress Moves to Ban In-Flight Cell Calls, Blowhards at 30,000 Feet
from the that-guy-in-seat-17C-simply-won't-shut-up dept
Last month FCC boss Tom Wheeler then took things further by proposing to eliminate the FCC ban on in-flight cellular phone calls (see the FCC FAQ), and the FCC is still fielding comments on the rule changes (mostly negative). While Wheeler and the FCC took a lot of grief from consumers annoyed that they'll be inundated with chatty cathys at 30,000 feet, Wheeler rather correctly argued that with tests showing no interference, the FCC's role as a technical regulator was complete, and it would be up to the FAA, Congress or the airlines to institute new guidelines protecting you from that annoying chatterbox in 17C:
“I do not want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else. But we are not the Federal Courtesy Commission… 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."Since then, the Department of Transportation has hinted that they might create new rules, and the CEO of Delta has tried to win consumer brownie points by issuing a public letter stating they'll never allow in-flight phone conversations. Fast forward to this week, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has approved a bill (HR3676, pdf) banning in-flight cellular (or VoIP) calls. House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) insists it's "common sense" to keep in-flight calls off limits:
"In our day-to-day lives, when we find someone’s cell phone call to be too loud, too close, or too personal, we can just walk away," he said. "But at 30,000 feet, there’s nowhere else for an airline passenger to go. Under this bill, passengers will be able to use their mobile devices to stay connected, through getting online, emailing, texting, and more. During flights, it is common sense and common courtesy to continue keeping cell phone calls on the ground."Even if by some strange chance Congress can't work together to pass a bill (there's a similar bill winding its way through the Senate), there's a good chance that in-flight calls could be so expensive as to be of limited appeal (remember $5 per minute calls via Airfone?). While some airlines could follow Delta's lead and step in to block phone calls, it seems like only a matter of time before an airline comes up with the "innovative" idea to charge a fee if users want to sit in the soundproofed section of the aircraft.