Washington - US regulators on Thursday opened the door to allowing mobile phone use on airplanes in an issue which has stirred howls of protest over the potential for disruption in the skies.
The Federal Communication Commission's 3-2 vote came after chairman Tom Wheeler said the action would merely publish rules for public comment, and determine the technical feasibility of in-flight phone use.
“This is a rule about technology, this is not a rule about usage,” Wheeler said ahead of the vote.
“I don't want to listen to the business conversations of the person sitting next to me .. but if technology eliminates interference and therefore eliminates the need for the interference protection rule, then we ought to eliminate the rule.”
Two of the FCC commissioners voiced objections to the plan, and about 60 members of Congress signed a letter urging the regulatory agency to allow only text and Internet services in flight, without voice calls.
Wheeler said however that these issues should be addressed in the rulemaking process, and that other agencies as well as airlines would be charged with determining whether to permit voice calls during flight.
“Without this proposal, you would not be able to email or to text or surf the Web,” Wheeler said.
Separately, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made a similar point, saying the FCC's only role “is to examine the technical feasibility of the use of mobile devices in flight.”
Foxx said his agency's responsibility “is to determine if allowing these calls is fair to consumers” and “will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls.” - Sapa-AFP