U.S. regulators to consider in-flight calls, text messaging

Reuters

WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. FederalCommunications Commission on Thursday set plans to expand theuse of cell phones aboard airplanes, considering the possibilityof allowing in-flight calls and text messaging.

Communications regulators on Dec. 12 will vote on a proposalthat would allow airlines to offer passengers an option ofmaking phone calls, sending texts or otherwise using their own wireless data and call services.

"Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the airsafely and reliably, and the time is right to review ouroutdated and restrictive rules," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saidin announcing that he has circulated the proposal.

After the five-member commission votes on the proposal onDec. 12, the FCC would collect comments on it and eventuallyfinalize it to revise its rules, which currently prohibit usingwireless services in-flight for fear of interfering with othernetworks. It would work together with the Federal AviationAdministration and the airline industry.

Starting last month, some U.S. airlines started allowingpassengers to use certain electronic devices throughout anentire flight after the FAA ended a long-standing ban thatrequired they be turned off during take-off and landing.

FCC officials say the new proposal, if adopted, would stillprohibit cellphone use below 10,000 feet at take-off and landingand would impose some technical requirements for airlines thatdecide to allow use of phones onboard.

Experts point out that the technology already exists tocollect phone calls and route them to the ground, solving theproblem of having to jump from one cell tower to another tocomplete the call. Some airlines in Europe, the Middle East andAsia already allow in-flight phone use, FCC officials say.

The FCC in May also started deliberations on a proposal thatwould offer a new type of in-flight broadband service promisingfliers higher Wi-Fi speeds and better connections.

U.S. air travelers can already access the Internet on someflights. But the speed of such service, which rely either onconnections with antennas on the ground or satellites, is slow.

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