The FCC did not vote to end the ban on in-flight calls, but to continue the conversation and start the public comment process -- an important distinction that was muddled by some in the moment.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3 to 2 Thursday afternoon to take comments on a proposal that would allow in-flight phone calls onboard U.S. carriers.
The commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which will detail proposed changes to the current ban on in-flight phone calls, seek public comments, and ask questions on a set of related issues. The FCC could also decide to issue a “Further NPRM” that looks at raised issues and provides the public another chance to comment.
FCC commissioner Thomas Wheeler says the agency has already received more than 400 comments in response to the in-flight phone call proposal.
Wheeler summed up the impact of the day’s decision by saying, “Here is a proposal. We ask you all to come and we want to know specifically what you will be commenting on.”
More About In-Flight Phone Calls:
- Should In-Flight Calling Be Decided by the FCC or the Airlines?
- The International Airlines That Already Offer In-Flight Phone Calls and Texting
- Skift Asks: Do You Want Phone Calls and Texts on Flights?
The commission is insistent that it is the agency’s role to remove a rule that is no longer needed due to improving technology.
“Our job is to be the expert agency on communications tools,” said Wheeler. “I agree with [DOT Transportation Secretary] Foxx’s statement that FCC’s main role is to determine the technological feasibility.”
Wheeler acknowledges that the Department of Transportation and individual airlines will determine how the new rule impacts flying.
“It is a rule about technology. It is not a rule of usage.”
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel argued against the decision saying that in-flight phone calls would create a situation “where our quiet time is monetized and sitting in the quiet sections comes at a premium.”
Commissioner Ajit Pai opposed the decision citing the possibility of air rage and the negligence of the FCC for not consulting other agencies on the impact of the decision.
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