FCC should stop being in-flight 'nanny'

Last night, on the heels of airlines letting fliers use electronic devices during takeoff and landing, the FCC proposed a rule change that would allow air passengers to make cell phone calls during air flights.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants to let fliers talk on phones above 10,000 feet and has scheduled a vote on the measure on December 12.  

The proposal has been met with a largely negative reaction: while some groups have come out in support of the measure, members of Congress are proposing bills banning cell phones on flights, and Delta Airlines announced it would not allow cellphone calls on its flights even if the FCC approves the measure.   A majority of the opposition cites nuisance to other passengers as the main concern with the rule change.  

The FCC took up this ban in 2007, but decided to keep it in place at that time, seemingly due to similar concerns about whether phone conversations would annoy other passengers.  But are concerns over whether cell phone activity would disturb other passengers a legitimate reason for the FCC to continue banning cell calls? 

AEI economist and FCC expert Jeffrey Eisenach applauds the move by the FCC, whose role should be addressing legitimate safety concerns and not enforcing restrictive policies in the name of protecting airline passengers from potential nuisances. Issues of courtesy can – and should – be worked out by individual passengers and airlines.  He writes: 

“It has been clear for a decade that technology would permit safe use of cell phones on airplanes.  Yet the FCC decided back in 2007 to leave the ban in place for reasons that appeared to have nothing to do with safety but rather the Commission’s desire to serve as “national nanny” by dictating what counts as good manners at 30,000 feet.  Three cheers for Tom Wheeler for recognizing that the middle “C” in FCC does not stand for courtesy, and having faith in the ability of airlines and airline passengers to work these things out for themselves.”

As a visiting scholar at AEI and the director of AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy (CICT), Mr. Eisenach’s work focuses on policies affecting the information technology and communications sectors.  He is available for interview and to speak on background. 

To arrange an interview please contact a media services representative or email [email protected] (202.862.5829). 

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