The Washington Post

U.S. to propose allowing cellphones during flights

The nation’s top telecom regulator will propose allowing passengers to make cell phone calls and use their data plans while on an airplane, officials said Thursday.

The proposed rule change by the Federal Communications Commission would allow phone use once a plane reaches 10,000 feet. Restrictions would still be in place during takeoffs and landings.

The agency’s commission is set to discuss the proposal in their upcoming December meeting. The new rule has the backing of Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s new chairman, who was sworn in just weeks ago.

“Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”

Wheeler, a Democrat, would need the support of the majority of the five-member commission, which has three Democrats and two Republicans.

The commission could vote on the matter after a public commenting period. The proposal does not need congressional approval.

The FCC made a similar proposal in 2004, but it was dropped three years later in the face of opposition from flight attendants and other groups worried about the distractions of constantly ringing phones and people talking on their devices while others are trying to sleep.

The new guidelines would let airlines install special equipment to relay wireless signals from the plane to the ground, likely by way of a satellite connection. A similar system already exists in Europe. Last week, the European Commission approved passengers’ use of 3G and 4G data from airplanes as well.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the use of all personal electronics below 10,000 feet so long as the devices remained on "airplane mode." In a September report, the agency's special task force on the issue suggested that advances in cell phone technology should prompt the FCC to reconsider its ban on phone calls above 10,000 feet.

“This raises the possibility that it may be appropriate for the FCC to again review its policies relative to cell phone use on planes, not only for international flights, but for U.S. domestic flights as well,” the report said.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Play Videos
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
The rise and fall of baseball cards
How to keep your child safe in the water
Play Videos
'Did you fall from heaven?': D.C.'s pick-up lines
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
How to get organized for back to school
How to buy a car via e-mail
The signature drink of New Orleans
Next Story
Timothy B. Lee · November 21, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.