Monday, December 20, 2004

Will We Need the Cone of Silence on Airplanes?

Will We Need the Cone of Silence on Airplanes?

For a minute last week, media attention focused on the FCC's proposal to allow in-air cell phone calling on airplanes. Here's a press release from the FCC on the plan:

FCC to Examine Ban on Using Cellular Telephones on Airborne Aircraft

FCC Chairman Michael Powell rightly gave assurances that any FCC decisions would be made in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and would take into account precautions "against interference to onboard communications and navigation equipment."

But Commissioner Michael J. Copps (while applauding the plan to increase communications options for air passengers) expressed the concern many of us have about allowing in-flight cell phone usage: "Many airline passengers don’t relish the idea of sitting next to someone yelling into their cell phones for an entire six hour flight. I know I don’t!"

In a world where peace and quiet is getting harder to come by, I can understand and share this reservation. However, I'm not confident that a continued cell phone ban is going to sustain the quiet environment of air flights in the long run. The reason I say this is that broadband Internet access will soon be available on airplanes, and the accelerating convergence and development of voice-and-multimedia-over-IP technology will likely make it possible soon for users to carry on VoIP calls and even video conferences during air travel, even if they can't use cell phones in transit.

If what you're looking for on air flights is a respite from noise pollution, I'm doubtful whether there's going to be much protection, even if cell phones remain banned.

Maybe airlines will introduce the "Cone of Silence" from the Get Smart TV show, as a requirement for people who want to call out during flights?

Probably not. The most likely protection lies with the desire most of us have to be courteous and maintain good relations with our neighbors. Cell phone communications don't require nearly as much shouting as some users think they do. And instant text messaging can be a good option for real-time communications that don't annoy others -- except for the incessant clicking of keys!

AB -- 12/20/04

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