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U.S. agency blocks path to in-flight airline cellphone

11/30/2020 | 12:52pm EST
FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Monday it had ended a 2013 regulatory proceeding that had sought to lift the ban on using mobile phones while in flight on U.S. airlines.

The FCC said in 2013 it would consider allowing air travelers to make mobile phone calls and text messages above 10,000 feet, but never finalized it.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in 2017 recommended ending the proceeding.

The commission, in adopting the recommendation three years later, noted strong opposition from U.S. airline pilots and flight attendants.

The "record is insufficient to determine any reasonable solution that would strike an appropriate balance of competing interests," the FCC said in closing the proceeding.

Pai, in 2017, had said he stood "with airline pilots, flight attendants, and America's flying public against the FCC's ill-conceived 2013 plan to allow people to make cellphone calls on planes ... Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans."

Some airlines offer Wi-Fi service that allow passengers to send text messages or browse the internet while mid-air.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. airlines, declined to comment on Monday.

In 2013, the FCC said special equipment could be installed on planes to allow in-flight calls and said it had already been deployed successfully in other countries without incident.

The FCC under then chairman Tom Wheeler said there were "no technical reasons to prohibit such technology to operate" but proposed leaving it to airlines whether to allow mobile phone calls.

In December 2016, the U.S. Transportation Department proposed regulations to "protect airline passengers from being unwillingly exposed to voice calls within the confines of an aircraft" and sought public comment on legally barring the calls. That regulation was never finalized.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Tom Brown)

By David Shepardson

© Reuters 2020
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