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FCC's in-flight cellphone plan carries a lot of baggage

Stephen Lawson | Nov. 25, 2013
Anyone who dreads hearing one end of a loud phone call all the way from Anchorage to Miami, take heart: The plan to allow cellphones on planes could fail in more ways than an overbooked flight at a snowbound airport on Christmas Eve.


"Somebody would have to make a leap and make it affordable, and hope there's enough volume coming," Entner said.

U.S. airlines had a chance to allow voice calling through Internet services such as Skype when they installed in-flight Wi-Fi, but they have kept it off limits. Delta Air Lines reaffirmed this policy last month when the FAA opened up device use.

"Delta has years of customer feedback on the impact on the customer experience of voice communications and the overwhelming sentiment is to continue with a policy that could not allow voice communications while in flight," Delta said.

In a survey last year by the Consumer Electronics Association and the Airline Passengers Experience Association, 61 percent of respondents listed voice calling as a part of the in-flight experience that should be restricted. An informal online poll by Network World on Friday got similar results: By late in the afternoon, 74 percent of voters had opposed the FCC's plan.

OnAir, not surprisingly, came out in favor of the proposal. In a statement, the company downplayed the social hazards.

"Forget the hyperbole about the chaos inflight cellphone usage could cause. The issue simply hasn't arisen anywhere in the world in the past six years," the company said in a statement attributed to CEO Ian Dawkins. "An aircraft is a noisy environment, so the sound of a conversation doesn't carry very far. Flight attendants can also control the use of Mobile OnAir by disabling the voice element during quiet times, such as the plane's night."

Rep. DeFazio questions why it's even necessary to take the risk if data services provide numerous ways to communicate silently while in flight.

"What is to be gained in a very small tube, which echoes, which is already a very tense environment?" he said.


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