Movie Theaters Try to Keep Things Quiet
Thursday, March 16, 2006
There's nothing quite like the shrill trill of a cell phone to kill the excitement of a cinematic moment.
It's an infuriating problem, one that movie theater owners have tried to address subtly with lobby signs and on-screen reminders to silence phones. Now, they are considering a new tactic: jamming cell phone signals inside the theater so calls cannot get through.
The idea came up this week during the ShoWest motion picture industry conference in Las Vegas, and the National Association of Theater Owners said it is interested in talking to other potentially interested groups, such as churches, playhouses and opera houses.
It also needs to talk to the federal government -- jamming cell phone signals is a federal crime and would require permission.
For a theater industry trying to keep pace with DVD rentals, online movie downloads, and a host of other competitive business concerns, keeping the movie theater annoyance-free is a serious matter.
"It's part of a larger issue of rude patron behavior," said Kendrick Macdowell, a spokesman for the industry group, which represents big theater chains such as AMC and Regal Cinemas. "It's something that gets people really upset. When it does happen, it's infuriating."
But jamming cell phone signals is a solution that also riles passions on the other side of the argument, notably parents of small children for whom a night out at the silver screen might not be feasible without emergency connectivity.
"Blocking technology is illegal for many reasons, the most important of which is public safety," said John Walls, a spokesman for CTIA, which represents the wireless industry. "I don't think anyone's in the position to play gatekeeper."
Willful or malicious interference with radio communications is illegal. Also, manufacturing, importing, marketing and selling devices that can block or jam wireless transmissions can result in an $11,000 fine and a year-long prison term, according to the Federal Communications Commission Web site.
But technologies that make it possible to temporarily block cell phone calls could create a loophole.
One Rochester, N.Y.-based company, NaturalNano Inc., has developed microscopic tubes that it can fill with signal-blocking materials such as copper that, when added to wall paint, would act as a shield preventing signals from passing through. The company also licensed a technology that can override the blocking, allowing signals to get through in between movies, for example.
"That's cheaper than retrofitting a building," said Michael Riedlinger, president of NaturalNano, who said the product could be available as early as next year.