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FCC takes first step towards allowing in-flight cellphone use, calling for public comment

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Delta Airlines (STOCK)
Delta Airlines (STOCK)

The FCC has voted to take public comment on a proposal to lift the ban on cellphones, with a final decision to be made later, Financial Times reports. The commission voted 3 to 2 in favor of allowing comments and opening the door to allowing cell use, taking public and expert opinion into account for a second vote. That decision could reverse a policy from the 1990s, taking into account new tests and changes in technology, but as the almost evenly split vote this time suggests, the proposal has been controversial. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler himself has said he'd prefer to fly without hearing phone calls, and the Department of Transportation could ground the proposal even if the FCC determines it's technologically feasible, potentially restricting use to mobile data and texting.

"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 — and I am concerned about this possibility as well," said Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in a statement. "USDOT will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls. As part of that process, USDOT will give stakeholders and the public significant opportunity to comment." The proposal to allow cellphone use in-flight comes close on the heels of a similar major change to FAA rules, removing bans on using in-flight electronics during takeoff and landing.