FCC Commissioner Clyburn backs in-flight cellphone proposal

Mignon Clyburn, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, voiced support Monday for dropping regulations that ban airline passengers from using their cellphones.   

"I think it's best to let competition and the marketplace regulate passenger engagements in flight," she said in a statement. "For while it is impossible for us to impose a gag rule on the flying public, I feel certain the airlines can, and will, find a workable solution.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a proposal last week to repeal the agency's ban on in-flight cellphone use. The move would allow airlines to decide whether to install technology and allow their passengers to make calls, text or access the Internet on their devices.

But the agency has faced a blowback from travelers who fear having to suffer through loud phone conversations on flights.  

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said the issue will "surely be a spirited topic of discussion" at next month's oversight hearing of the FCC, which is expected to feature testimony from all five FCC commissioners.

"Like most Americans, when I heard the news that the FCC was considering allowing cell phone calls on commercial flights, I was concerned to say the least," Walden said. 

On Friday, Wheeler issued a statement emphasizing that it would be up to individual airlines to decide whether to allow in-air phone use. The FCC is only exploring whether its existing rule barring in-flight cell service over interference concerns is out of date, Wheeler said. 

In her statement, Clyburn said the government has "well defined roles concerning the safety and security of Americans."

"When it comes to providing a reasonable zone of silence, things are not so well defined," she said.

The FCC will vote on whether to accept public comments on the proposal at its next meeting on Dec. 12.