FCC rule would lift in-flight call ban

The Federal Communications Commission moved forward Tuesday with a contentious plan to end the agency's ban on in-flight phone calls, proposing a rule that would allow individual airlines to decide whether travelers can talk, text and surf the Web.

The use of electronic devices on airplanes was banned for many years for fear that they could interfere with a plane’s navigation systems. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) loosened that ban late last year, prompting the FCC to consider allowing in-flight phone calls.

"These rule changes would give airlines, subject to applicable Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DoT) rules, the choice of whether to enable mobile communications services," the FCC said in a Federal Register filing.

The FCC was hit with a fierce public backlash last year when it first said it was considering lifting the cellphone ban. Channeling public outrage, lawmakers blasted the commission and filed legislation that would keep people from chatting away in the skies.

The commission voted along party lines in December to move forward with lifting the ban. Commissioner Tom Wheeler argued the agency doesn’t have the authority to police passenger behavior, and must respond to the new safety guidelines issued by the FAA.

"I do not want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else," FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler said at a hearing in December. "But we are not the Federal Courtesy Commission."

The Department of Transportation has said it will consider issuing new regulations that would reinstate the ban on cellphone calls.

"USDOT will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.