Posted on: December 2, 2013
Scorn is being heaped upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its plan to review its long-standing ban on the use of cellphones in flight. The scorn is undeserved.
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We think it's entirely appropriate for the FCC to revisit this issue. That's its job.
In the furor that erupted in the wake of the news, the FCC has been besieged by angry and anxious airline passengers who want the ban to remain in place. Frankly, we like the ban, too -- particularly with respect to voice calls. We don't think anybody should be forced to sit next to Chatty Cathy.
But the FCC has been taking pains to point out that it is only looking at the technical issue, not the behavioral issue. And even if the FCC decides that interference from in-flight cellular service can be avoided (which seems to be the case), that won't mean that the FCC is mandating its use.
The FCC will simply be telling the airlines and the Department of Transportation that if they want to provide cellular service in flight, this is how it can be done without disrupting ground-based networks.
The FCC has put out a two-and-a-half-page FAQ on the subject, and the exact phrase "it will be the airlines' decision" appears no fewer than seven times. That makes it pretty clear that it will be up to the airlines to decide whether to allow passengers to use their mobile phones for data services, texting or for voice calls. (For the record, we would favor two out of three.)
For decades the airlines have been able to dodge the whole question of cellphones in flight by citing the FCC ban. If the ban goes away, the airlines will have to confront the economic and customer-service issues head-on, which is as it should be.