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US moves ahead with plan to allow phone use in planes

WASHINGTON--U.S. regulators Thursday opened the door to allowing mobile phone use on airplanes — an issue that has stirred howls of protest over the potential for disruption in the skies.

The Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) 3-2 vote came after chairman Tom Wheeler said the action would merely publish rules for public comment, and determine the technical feasibility of in-flight phone use.

“This is a rule about technology, this is not a rule about usage,” Wheeler said ahead of the vote.

He added that the issue has been “widely misunderstood” and that the agency was seeking to determine if there are no technical reasons for banning calling.

“If the basis for the rule is no longer valid, then the rule is no longer valid. It's that simple,” he said.

Some 60 members of Congress signed a letter urging the regulatory agency to allow only text and Internet services in flight, without voice calls.

Wheeler said however that potential problems should be addressed in the rule-making process, and that other agencies as well as airlines would be charged with determining whether to permit voice calls during flight.

“Without this proposal, you would not be able to email or to text or surf the Web,” Wheeler said.

US Transportation Department Considers Ban

Separately, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noted that the FCC's only role “is to examine the technical feasibility of the use of mobile devices in flight.”

Foxx said in a statement that his agency's responsibility “is to determine if allowing these calls is fair to consumers” and “will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls.”

FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel voted to move forward on the proposal but voiced concern over the prospect on in-flight calls.

Rosenworcel said that even though the FCC members were considering the matter as “technicians,” that “does not absolve ourselves of the consequences of our decision.”

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