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Cell Phones In Flight Considered

FCC Examining Loosening Ban

Bloomberg News
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page E06

The Federal Communications Commission is considering loosening a ban on using cell phones in airplanes.

FCC officials will discuss at a meeting Wednesday changes to rules that bar people from using wireless devices while flying, spokeswoman Lauren Patrich said yesterday. "Relaxing or replacing" the rules are among possible outcomes, and the prohibition may be scrapped altogether, she said.

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Loosening the ban could benefit wireless carriers such as Sprint Corp. as travelers use in-flight time to work and communicate, though most cell phones won't work once a plane reaches its cruising altitude, said Sprint spokeswoman Mary Nell Westbrook.

"Once you get to a certain height, you are no longer in the range of the cellular network" because cell phone towers aren't built to project their signals that high, she said. The technology is "difficult now, but it's not something that can't happen in the future."

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency doesn't have its own ban on in-flight cell-phone use, though it has supported the FCC's rule and individual airline policies that regulate whether a traveler can make calls once a plane lands and before it reaches the gate.

While the FCC prohibits in-flight cell phone use because of concerns that communication by callers in airplanes will interfere with calls between on-ground users, the FAA is focused on whether cell phone use will interfere with a plane's navigation system, Brown said. An independent organization is reviewing that issue for the agency, she said.

FCC officials will probably vote next week on whether to put the matter up for public discussion and won't decide immediately, Patrich said.

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