US consumer groups seek study before in-flight mobile ban

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Two consumer advocacy groups have asked Congress to commission a study on the use of wireless communications devices on US commercial flights before outlawing the in-flight use of mobile phones for voice calls and other wireless telephony.

The Coalition for an Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights (CAPBOR), a flyers' rights group, and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBEC), which boasts a membership of over 70,000, have sent letters to US House transportation and infrastructure committee chairman James Oberstar and ranking member John Mica urging them to seek input from stakeholders and to consider all the information before banning the safe usage of wireless communications on US flights.

"Given the increased difficulties we face in getting to our destinations these days Americans are spending more and more time at airports and on board commercial aircraft," says CAPBOR executive director Kate Hanni.

"We believe it is essential that the federal government perform a full inquiry before deciding whether to ban the use of wireless communications on commercial flights and that all the relevant benefits and information be considered before a decision is made by Congress."

SBE Council president and CEO Karen Kerrigan adds: "In today's ultra competitive global business climate, deals happen and commerce moves at the speed of the latest telecommunications technology - hours and even seconds count. By denying US passengers the ability to stay connected while on flights, while our international counterparts are able to do so, could create a significant disadvantage for US business travelers."

The in-flight use of mobile phones is currently prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In an effort to ensure that a permanent federal ban remains in place, Representative Peter DeFazio and other lawmakers last year introduced the so-called "Hang-Up Act" to prohibit wireless voice communications during flights, including voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), while ignoring wired voice communications. The bill's language was recently added to FAA Reauthorization legislation being considered by the House.

"It makes good sense for Congress to take into consideration the available data, and the real world in-flight experiences of passengers and flight crews before moving to deny US passengers access to commonly used and valuable communication services," says Carl Biersack, spokesperson for the In-flight Passenger Communications Commission (IPCC), a group established by mobile connectivity providers AeroMobile and OnAir to stop the Hang-Up Act from becoming law.

The IPCC points out that, because in-flight communications have now been available to a wide range of passengers on commercial airline flights in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, "actual data is now available on usage, policies and procedures that have been enacted to facilitate their safe and courteous use".