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Gadget Companies Want FCC Clearance So Passengers Can Make In-Flight Calls

May 17, 2014 5:00 am

Skift Take

Passengers have both good and bad habits on the ground, and they still have them in the air, whether or not you can make a call from time to time.

— Jason Clampet

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Reuters

Passenger calling from the gate, not the airplane. Reuters


Makers of smartphones and networking gear urged U.S. regulators to end a ban on in-flight calls, adding their voices to an issue that’s roused public cries against noisy airplane seatmates.

The Federal Communications Commission should end its ban so text, data “and even voice connectivity” can be available to airborne passengers, including those on long-haul international flights, three trade associations said in a joint filing to the agency today. Airlines could decide what services passengers could use, the trade groups said.

The groups weighing in were the Telecommunications Industry Association representing makers and suppliers of networks, including Intel Corp.; the Information Technology and Industry Council with members including Google Inc. and Akamai Technologies Inc.; and the Consumer Electronics Association representing phone makers Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

The FCC is considering allowing airline passengers to make voice calls using their mobile phones at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Its ban was put in place in the 1990s because of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made his proposal after aviation regulators loosened restrictions on onboard use of Wi-Fi connected electronic devices such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindles and Apple’s iPads. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx expressed concern about allowing voice calls, and his department is considering whether the change would be fair to consumers.

Together, the agencies may decide to block voice calls while permitting other uses, such as texting and e-mail.

Airline Reception

A Transportation Department online log list 1,774 entries including comments that warn of “angry confrontations” and “extremely intrusive” calls. The FCC attracted more than 1,300 comments; one warned that if surrounded in-flight by people using telephones, “I would not be able to stay sane.”

Clearing the FCC’s prohibition on in-flight calls would let airlines offer up-to-date services, the gear and tech interests said today.

American Airlines and US Airways don’t allow voice calls over their onboard Wi-Fi systems, said Casey Norton, a spokesman for American Airlines Group Inc. Delta Air Lines Inc. has told regulators its passengers don’t like onboard calls.

In-flight communications provider Gogo Inc. told regulators all its commercial-airline customers have said they won’t allow voice calling.

The change would give airlines the option to allow consumers to access broadband services when airborne through their existing wireless service providers, just as they would on the ground, the FCC said in its proposal.

With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas.

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net.

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