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FCC Initiates Review of Rules for Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft

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Released: December 12, 2013

Federal Communications Commission

News Media Information 202 / 418-0500

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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action.
See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).



December 12, 2013
Justin Cole, 202-418-8191



Begins process to fix and modernize outdated regulations, keep pace with new technology, and give
airlines the choice whether to allow passengers to use their mobile devices in-flight to access mobile
wireless services for email, texts, Internet use and voice services;
Expands existing default ban on use of cellphones in-flight.
Washington, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission today initiated a proceeding to consider a
proposal that would permit airlines to install equipment on aircraft that could safely expand the
availability of in-flight mobile wireless services to passengers. The Commission will now seek to solicit
public input on the proposal, and will carefully review input from consumers and stakeholders before
taking any final action.
The proposed rules, if adopted after a period of public review and comment, would expand the existing
default ban on the use of cellphones in-flight to include frequency bands not previously subject to the
prohibition. However, if an airline chooses to equip its aircraft with specialized onboard equipment that
would prevent harmful interference with wireless networks on the ground, the airline would have the
ability to enable in-flight wireless broadband access to passengers. The new systems could allow airlines
to offer an array of new choices to the flying public, including Internet, e-mail, text and potentially voice
services. The new technology also would provide airlines with a high level of control over the in-cabin
communications environment.
The proposal would not require airlines to install onboard access systems or to provide mobile wireless
services to passengers on their fleets. Under the proposal, the use of mobile wireless devices would still
be prohibited as a default, unless an airline installs an onboard system to manage the service.
Since 1991, the FCC has prohibited in-flight mobile cellular use due to concerns about harmful
interference to wireless networks on the ground. In the past two decades, technology and engineering has
evolved, and specialized onboard systems that can effectively prevent interference with wireless networks
on the ground have been designed and successfully deployed internationally. In addition, while consumer
use of mobile phones for voice has declined in recent years, use of tablets and smartphones for wireless
data has exploded. Global mobile data traffic is predicted to increase thirteen fold by 2017. Consumers
are ever more dependent on reliable, high speed connectivity at all places, at all times – including when
Foreign airlines have used onboard mobile access technology during the last five years in jurisdictions
across Europe and Asia. The Commission believes that these systems can be successfully deployed in the
United States, and that the time has come to examine reforms to the agency’s outdated rules with respect
to mobile wireless service onboard aircraft.

Under the proposal, individual airlines would be free, consistent with the Commission’s rules and
relevant Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DoT) rules, to make
their own decisions about whether to offer mobile wireless services at all, and, if so, which services to
offer. If an airline chooses to install new onboard equipment, consumers would be able to use their mobile
devices’ full wireless data capabilities in addition to the current choice of access to Wi-Fi on some flights.
Airlines would be in total control of what types of mobile services to permit onboard, including whether
to permit Web surfing, emailing, and texting, but not voice calls.
Specifically, the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on the following
proposals to:
 Remove existing, narrow restrictions on airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz cellular
and Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) bands, replacing them with a more comprehensive
framework encompassing access to mobile communications services in all mobile wireless bands;

Harmonize regulations governing the operation of mobile devices on airborne aircraft across all
commercial mobile spectrum bands;
 Add the authority to provide mobile communications services on airborne aircraft across all
commercial mobile spectrum bands to existing Part 87 aircraft station licenses;
 Allow mobile communications services on airborne aircraft only if managed by an Airborne
Access System certified by the FAA, which would control the emissions of onboard portable
electronic devices (PEDs) by requiring them to remain at or near their lowest transmitting power
level; and
 Limit authorization for mobile communications services to aircraft travelling at altitudes of more
than 3,048 meters (approximately 10,000 feet) above the ground.
The Notice also seeks comment on alternative authorization frameworks, the potential impact of the
proposals on public safety and national security, and issues related to the use of voice services onboard
The Commission looks forward to reviewing input from American consumers and stakeholders on this
issue as the next step forward in this process.
Frequently-asked questions about this item can be found at
Official FCC blog posts about this issue are available at
Action by the Commission December 12, 2013, by Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 13-157).
Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn, with Commissioner Rosenworcel Concurring and
Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly dissenting. Chairman Wheeler, Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel,
Pai and O’Rielly issuing statements.
WT Docket No. 13-301
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