FCC: In-flight cell phone ban to continue

Agency says it doesn't have enough information about technical interference issues, drops 2-year-old inquiry into relaxing prohibition.

In-flight cell phone chatter won't be permitted anytime soon, per a decision by federal regulators.

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday issued a brief order revealing that it plans to drop an ongoing inquiry into relaxing a prohibition dating back to 1991 on cell phone use in airborne aircraft. (PDF: the FCC's memorandum regarding cell phone use on planes.)

The regulators said it was "premature" to decide the issue because they had not received enough technical information from commenters to determine whether portable electronic devices would interfere with aircraft operations.

"We may, however, reconsider this issue in the future if appropriate technical data is available for our review," the order said.

Wi-Fi on planes, however, is another story. A spokesman for AirCell, the Colorado firm that received an FCC license last year enabling it to set up hot spots on aircraft, confirmed Tuesday that the company still plans to begin offering its exclusive service to passengers by early 2008.

The cell phone decision was not unexpected. According to published reports, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said late last month that he planned to recommend terminating the proceeding.

A federal advisory committee, at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration, is currently finishing up its own study on broader use of emerging telephone technologies on aircraft on its own and expects to issue recommendations later this year.

After opening the issue for several months of public comment in December 2004, the FCC amassed nearly 8,000 comments, many from individual citizens who balked at the idea of allowing fellow passengers to indulge in cell phone chatter in the close quarters of airline seating.

A large number of the letters relied on lines suggested by the Association of Flight Attendants union: "The introduction of cell phone use in the cabin will not only increase tension among passengers, it will compromise flight attendants' ability to maintain order in an emergency. Cell phone use could also enable terrorists to coordinate a plan of action more effectively."

CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents cell phone carriers, applauded the FCC's move. Spokesman Joseph Farren said the organization maintains that "in-flight calling produces an unacceptable level of interference with the terrestrial network."

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