The Obama administration is likely to ban the use of cellphones on airplanes in the next few months while airlines are claiming that the government is overreaching its authority, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The Department of Transportation is pushing to disallow mobile calls just months after the Federal Communications Commission proposed overturning rules barring in-flight calls that have stood for two decades.
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The transport department's general counsel, Kathryn Thomson, told the International Aviation Club during a speech in Washington last week that the agency is moving closer to the next step in the prohibition process, the Journal reports.
And an agency spokeswoman revealed that DOT is drawing up "a notice of proposed rulemaking" for December that would reveal why the government objects to passengers making and receiving calls.
The issue would be open for comments from the airline industry and the public until February before a final decision is made.
The FCC had proposed in December overturning the cellphone rules, designed to prevent interference with air-traffic control communications, that had prevented passengers using their phones mid-flight for more than 20 years. The DOT ruling would take precedence over the FCC.
According to the Journal, the reason for the proposed ban centers around the disruptive nature of voice calls rather than using cellphones for texting or Internet searches. The restrictions of phones for data and text only had been relaxed in recent months.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has previously voiced his opposition to in-flight cellphone usage on consumer protection grounds, and maintains that passengers and flight crew are strongly opposed to it.
However, airline executives believe that the department is exceeding its authority, and say that carriers should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow phone service, which would let them offer passengers an advantage over other airlines.
"Airlines aren't clamoring to allow mobile phone use during flight, and some have already said they'd prohibit it on their own flights," said Jeffrey Shane, general counsel for the International Air Transport Association, and a former senior Transportation Department executive, the Journal reports.
But Shane added that certain carriers may find ways to allow "passenger-friendly" calls, such as in-flight telephone booths, the Journal said, while noting that wireless companies are also opposed to the government overstepping its authority.
The British firm AeroMobile Communications Ltd., which runs in-flight mobile services for 13 overseas airlines, says that most users stick to texting and downloading data, while only 20 percent of usage is for calls, usually lasting under two minutes. The service can be stopped any time during a flight.
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