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December 13, 2013

FCC, Transportation Department Disagree on In-Flight Web Access

Image courtesy of (samuiblue)/

Air travelers may be doing more than soaring high in the future, they may also be surfing.

The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday it is initiating a proceeding to consider allowing  airlines to install equipment on planes to expand wireless services to passengers. The commission, in a press release, said it will launch a public consultation process on the proposal which, if enacted, would not only expand the use of cellphones while flying, but could offer passengers a cornucopia of online abilities including surfing the Web, e-mailing, texting and possibly even making phone calls.

The announcement was met with little enthusiasm by transportation secretary Anthony Foxx.

In a statement issued Thursday, Foxx said he is “concerned” by the news.

“Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight — and I am concerned about this possibility as well,” he stated.

The proposal does not mean airline passengers would have carte blanche access to online services. What it could do is give airlines the option of installing the needed equipment on their planes.

The use of cellular devices, prohibited since 1991 in the United States, is permitted on some foreign airlines. For the past five years some airlines in Europe in Asia have used onboard mobile access technology.

Regardless, Foxx said the FCC’s role in the debate is to examine the technical feasibility of such a venture.

The Department of Transportation, however, has a slightly different role in the matter.

“We believe USDOT’s role, as part of our Aviation Consumer Protection Authority, is to determine if allowing these calls is fair to consumers,” he said.  “USDOT will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls. As part of that process, USDOT will give stakeholders and the public significant opportunity to comment.”

The Commission, however, said it believes the new technology can be implemented successfully and the time has come to examine changes to “outdated rules” when it comes to wireless devices on aircraft.


W. Brice McVicar is a staff writer for SiteProNews.