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You’re Stuck With Gogo: Government Reverses Plan For Cell Service On Planes

The Federal Communications Commission chairman voted against a proposal to allow airplane passengers to connect using their own wireless carriers.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 2:05 p.m. ET

Posted on April 10, 2017, at 6:03 p.m. ET

Getty Images/Chris Hondros

Flyers won't be able to use their own mobile networks in-flight anytime soon. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday voted against a proposed rule that would have relaxed restrictions on in-flight mobile device use, essentially terminating it. Of the two other FCC leaders who will vote on the proposal, one had previously sided with the chairman against it.

“I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement on Monday. "Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet.”

The rule was introduced in December 2013 by then-chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat who resigned in January and said current laws were "outdated and restrictive."

The FCC, which regulates communications like telephones, mobile devices, and internet services, prohibits in-flight mobile usage to protect against the threat of interference with wireless networks on the ground.

While passengers can connect via pay-for services such as Gogo Inflight Internet, which many complain is expensive and slow, the proposed rule would have given airlines permission to decide if they would install equipment allowing passengers use of their own phones and their own wireless carriers above 10,000 feet.

The FCC explained in a blog post:

The proposal would create a way for passengers to utilize their devices over their mobile wireless networks for email, texting and Internet use. Many consumers can already use Wi-Fi services onboard aircraft for these purposes. The proposal would provide more competition in the marketplace and give consumers more choices to use their devices in the manner that works best for them—either through Wi-Fi or their wireless provider. The result is that consumers could potentially have access to similar services aboard aircraft that they have come to rely with their mobile wireless networks on the ground.

Soon after the rule was introduced, flyers sent dozens of passionate comments to the FCC urging the commission to vote against allowing passengers to make in-flight phone calls.

"This is the worst idea ever," said one commenter.

"What better use of my extra Christmas card than to ask you to please use any influence you have to ... guide airlines towards allowing data but not voice use in flight," said one person, who was polite enough to wish the commission "Happy Holidays."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO..."

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, a Republican who sided with Pai against the rule when it was proposed in 2013, and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who said the rule would promote competition by giving travelers more data service options, still must vote on the rule.

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