WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) said on Thursday it is now planning its own review to possibly ban in-flight calls, hours before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to launch the review of the technical rules that regulate the use of cell phones during airplane flights.
"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," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "I am concerned about this possibility as well."
Foxx said the FCC's sole role on this issue is to examine the technical feasibility of the use of mobile devices in flight, while the USDOT, which oversees the aviation industry, is to determine if allowing these calls is fair to consumers.
"USDOT will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls," Foxx said. "As part of that process, USDOT will give stakeholders and the public significant opportunity to comment."
Hours later, the FCC voted 3 to 2 to initiate a proceeding to consider a proposal that, if adopted, would give airline carriers the ability to allow passengers to use their mobile wireless devices, such as cellphones, while flying above 10,000 feet.
"Today's proposal to remove outdated rules and expand access to mobile wireless services during air travel is pro-free market, pro- competition, pro-consumer, pro-technology, and de-regulatory," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.
But even Wheeler himself is not in favor of calls on planes. The proposal has "garnered a great deal of attention and been widely misunderstood. Let me say up front that, I get it. I don't want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else," he said.
"So then why are we still moving forward with this item?" Wheeler asked. "We simply propose that because new technology makes the old rule obsolete ... the Commission's engineers believe that there are no technical reasons to prohibit such technology to operate in the United States. If the basis for the rule is no longer valid, then the rule is no longer valid. It's that simple," he said.
The proposal would not require airlines to install onboard access systems or to provide mobile wireless services to passengers on their fleets, the FCC said. Under the proposal, the use of mobile wireless devices would still be prohibited as a default, unless an airline installs an onboard system to manage the service.
In a background statement, the FCC said Foxx's announcement will not pre-empt its determination because the USDOT "will determine solely if allowing voice calls is fair to consumers."
A month ago, the USDOT's Federal Aviation Administration determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices during all phases of flight. The changes will allow passengers to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices without having to turn them off during takeoff and landing. But in the meantime, cell phones should be in airplane mode and cannot be used for voice communications.