An issue that is near and dear to my heart - in-flight mobile cell phone usage - is back in the fray now that major trade groups have joined the growing chorus of objections to a House FAA reauthorization bill amendment that would formally ban wireless devices for voice communications when an aircraft is airborne in the USA.
The CTIA, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Satellite Industry Association, the Consumer Electronics Association, and TechAmerica have all asked that a proper study be performed before a permanent federal ban is implemented. Their request mirrors that which was recently made by two major consumer groups.
So why perform a study? Because the gravity of a federal ban is so significant. It would, without a doubt, stop this type of technological advancement in the USA while the rest of the world adopts in-flight mobile connectivity en masse. For those who have not been following this issue, let me be clear - the bill would ban passengers from making voice calls on wireless devices (just passengers, mind you, not crew or federal marshals). That includes mobile phones but also VoIP. It does not ban telephony over wired devices.
The Inflight Passenger Communications Coalition (IPCC) was formed by a group of industry stakeholders with the goal of stopping a federal ban from being passed (current FCC and FAA bans already exist, but these are not locked into the harder-to-open vault of federal law).
The legislation, proposed by the very misguided Representative Peter DeFazio, originally came in standalone form as the "Hang-Up Act". It has since been incorporated into FAA reauthorization legislation.
This is significant. The FAA needs to be funded. In less than five months, lawmakers will vote on this legislation or vote to pass another extension to fund the agency.
"If the world was perfect," says IPCC spokesman Carl Biersack, the coalition would like to see a study mandated in lieu of the ban before the legislation "reaches the House floor".
As these things go, the Senate is drafting its own FAA reauthorization legislation. Carl says he does not know if the same type of amendment will be tacked on to the Senate's version of the bill, but notes that some senators have looked at the proposed ban with a sense of scepticism.
"We do have some champions both in the House and Senate. They have communicated to us that they are. They have not played a public role as yet," says Carl.
I'm not surprised that lawmakers are staying quiet on this issue. When DeFazio introduced the Hang-Up Act, he said the public "doesn't want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on an already over-packed airplane". There was just one problem - DeFazio never formally queried the public.
"Stakeholders, detractors, everyone hasn't had input. The [legislation] has been done without the benefit of a review. That is why we feel our position as a study is very valid. We are not advocating a result. We are not advocating that applications be applied tomorrow on commercial flights in the USA," says an IPCC spokesman.
The IPCC may not be advocating it, but you can be sure that is the ultimate goal. And what would be so wrong with that? Countries all over this fair globe now permit the in-flight usage of mobile cell phones and there have been no social problems. None!
Where is the outcry in Asia, Europe and the Middle East? Where is the gnashing of fists and the grinding of teeth? Where is the air rage? It isn't there. It's a farce. Just like this legislation.