FCC to cell phone users on planes: Don't touch that dial

Decision ends for now the possibility of phone conversations on flights

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has ended a proceeding that would have allowed mobile phone calls on airplanes, ending for now the possibility of phone conversations during flights.

The FCC announced today (download PDF) it would not move forward with the proceeding. Public comments "provide insufficient technical information on whether the use of cellular phones onboard aircraft may cause harmful interference to terrestrial networks," the FCC said. It's order is available online (download PDF)

After the FCC opened the inquiry in December 2004, the agency received thousands of comments from airline customers asking the agency not to approve mobile phone calls during flights. Many people said they didn't want to be subjected to their neighbors' phone conversations. Some mobile phone carriers also expressed concern that in-flight conversations would interfere with their on-ground networks, and the idea received mixed reviews from airlines.

However, the FCC left open the possibility of in-flight phone calls. Airlines, device manufacturers and wireless providers are still researching the use of phones and other electronic devices on flights, and the FCC found it would be "premature" to seek further comment at this point, the agency said.

The FCC could reconsider the issue later "if appropriate technical data is available," the FCC said. European airlines are gearing up to offer in-flight mobile phone service by the end of the year.

The FCC's action would have needed to be accompanied by a change in rules by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Some airlines are experimenting with Wi-Fi service during flights. In November, AirCell Inc. announced it had received an FCC license to provide air-to-ground broadband service in airplanes.

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