FCC hits brakes on in-flight calling (for now)

The seemingly never-ending "will they or won't they" saga involving the FCC, the FAA, airlines, mobile carriers, and the extraordinarily annoying plane passenger sitting next to you has taken another unexpected turn this week. On the heels of a CTIA study suggesting that so-called "picocells" placed on planes to communicate with phones won't completely eliminate paralyzing interference with ground towers, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin suggesting that the feds should hold off on lifting the in-flight calling ban. Apparently, the big issue revolves around phones operating on bands that aren't supported by the installed picocell; in the absence of that local communication, the handset goes right back to mussin' and fussin' with the traditional towers several miles below -- potentially with disastrous effects to the network and other users, never mind the fact that no one's managed to conclusively prove that aircraft systems won't be affected. For what it's worth, the chairman's suggestion is just that -- a suggestion -- and doesn't prevent the agency's commissioners from approving the move anyway. While we're the first to agree that the thought of a couple hundred passengers yakking away in tight quarters is a starkly frightening one, we're not sure it's the FCC's place to be legislating away annoyances -- let the feds do their technical due diligence, we say. Word has it the picocells can be tweaked to fix the CTIA's concerns, and if that holds up, airlines will decide individually whether to let customers dial (or, at the very least, access data services) mid-flight. From there, we'll all be voting with our dollars.

[Via Techdirt]