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Hang up and fly.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Federal Communications Commission handed a victory to the flying public when it announced last Tuesday that a ban on in-flight use of cell phones would remain in effect. But it's hard to see how the ban can last. With cell phones becoming hybrids of the computer, the television, the jukebox and the credit card, airline passengers will need sturdier protection against cell phone chatter than the FCC has provided.

The agency's decision could have been based on humanitarian grounds: A passenger stuck in the center seat between two people yakking on cell phones would be subject to conditions prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Or it could have been based on safety considerations: Midway through a five-hour flight, someone forced to endure listening to one side of an inane cell phone conversation might snap, endangering passengers and crew.

Instead, the FCC said the ban on cell phones would stand because of "technical" factors. That leaves open the possibility that technological barriers to in-flight cell phone use will one day be overcome - probably soon, given the fact that cell phones are evolving faster than fruit flies - leaving the ban without its stated justification. One way to foreclose this possibility would be for the FCC to define "technical" factors broadly:

Technically, cell phones are seldom used for communication, and therefore the FCC lacks the authority to permit their use aboard airplanes. Most information exchanged on cell phones is some variant of "Where are you now?" The answer, "I'm on an airplane," won't change until the plane lands, at which point the FCC resumes jurisdiction.

Technically, airplanes are movie theaters as well as public transportation. It's legal, though not always polite, to use a cell phone on a bus or in a taxi. But cell phone jabber can penetrate the cheap headsets the airlines provide to people who watch the in-flight movie. The sign on the theater door says "Turn off cell phones." That means you, over there in seat 7E.

Technically, there must be such a thing as too much communication, or unwanted communication, otherwise there would be no need to regulate it. Airplanes have become one of the last places people can escape their cell phones and really get away from the pressures of home and work. See that woman at the window seat contentedly reading a novel, and that man next to her giving uninterrupted concentration to his laptop? They could be on the phone. The FCC has preserved their freedom, at least for now.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; FCC says no to in-flight cell phones
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 8, 2007
Words:418
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