Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Internet Calls Spur Clash Over Talking in the Air | Mobile Tech Today

A new battle is underway about whether airline passengers should be making calls and chattering away during flights.

Cellphone calls are prohibited in the air. But fliers increasingly are carrying smartphones and tablet Relevant Products/Services computers on flights. And airlines increasingly are equipping their planes with broadband access. The combination allows passengers to log on and talk to people over Internet calling services such as Skype.

And it's set the stage for an argument over whether any calls should be allowed, as the Federal Aviation Administration studies whether to expand passengers' use of electronic gadgets in the air.

On one side, groups that represent the electronics and telecommunications industry say that Internet calls are as easy as streaming movies and that passengers should be allowed to make them. On the other, flight crews and many passengers oppose more noisy distractions in the cabin.

"This is an issue that clearly is not going away," says Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants-Communications Workers of America.

The Federal Communications Commission bans cellphone calls on planes to avoid interference with ground networks. But airlines can allow use of electronics such as tablets and smartphones above 10,000 feet, after showing the FAA that they don't interfere with aircraft equipment.

About 300 planes have broadband access, and 7,000 are expected in the next five years, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Airlines offering service include Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United and US Airways. Delta and Southwest prohibit voice calls as part of their service, which Southwest says is due to the shared environment.

The Telecommunications Industry Association argues that the FAA shouldn't dictate which uses are allowed on the Internet, such as allowing streaming movies while prohibiting Skype calls.

"We wouldn't want a government regulation to pick a winner or loser among technologies, which should be allowed to compete," says Brian Scarpelli, the association's senior manager for government affairs.

The FAA currently doesn't prohibit Internet calls, termed VoIP or "Voice over Internet Protocol" calls. And if an airline wants to allow them, the FAA requires procedures for how flight crews deal with electronics and announcements for when passengers can use the devices.

While calls remain contentious, personalized entertainment is popular among the comments that the FAA has collected the last two months as it considers what devices it will allow and how they should be used in the air.

Flight attendants say electronic devices -- especially voice calls from passengers -- distract from safety lectures and disturb other travelers. (continued...)


? 2012 USA TODAY under contract with MarketWatch. All rights reserved.


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