While you can now use WiFi to check your email, play games, go online, or watch a movie on a plane, you generally still can’t use it to make a phone call. The FCC is making sure this no-phone refuge remains, by ditching its long-in-the-works plan to lift its ban on in-flight cellphone calls.
Way back in 2013, the FCC began to consider whether it should lift its regulation against cell phone use in flight. The Commission had banned them in the first place back when mobile phones were a new technology, out of concern that the signals might interfere with aviation systems or networks on the ground.
With decades’ of evolution in technology, not to mention a whole bunch more kinds of phones and networks to test the question with, the FCC wanted to investigate the question: Is it safe to use your cell phone in air? Can it be done?
The proposal before the FCC was to evaluate the can, not the should; the latter actually falls under the purview of the Department of Transportation, and at the time former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx expressed skepticism that lifting the ban would be a great idea.
New FCC chair Ajit Pai, however, announced today that he’s proposing the FCC stop asking if you even can and instead just leave the status quo well enough alone.
“I stand with airline pilots, flight attendants, and America’s flying public against the FCC’s ill-conceived 2013 plan to allow people to make cellphone calls on planes,” Pai said in a statement. “I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest. Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet.”
When the FCC first raised this issue in 2013, Pai dissented [PDF] at length (no, seriously, it’s an 1,100-word dissent solely to even considering the idea), resulting in one of his typically quotable statements.
“Although I’m pretty sure I could resist the urge to stab a fellow passenger,” he (probably) joked, “I understand [sentiments against] and share these concerns. Like most Americans, I don’t want people making phone calls on planes.”