Comments to USDOT in the matter of Use of Mobile Wireless Devices for Voice Calls on Aircraft

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On behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (“CEI”), I respectfully submit these comments in response to the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the matter of Use of Mobile Wireless Devices for Voice Calls on Aircraft (“ANPRM”).

CEI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest organization that focuses on regulatory policy from a market-oriented perspective.

CEI previously submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission in its proceeding to consider an update of its 1991 rule prohibiting many in-flight cellular transmissions.

We agreed with the Commission that technological innovation has rendered this rule obsolete, and supported revising it to reflect the realities of the modern wireless marketplace. Those comments addressed the proposed licensing framework and how it might affect existing licensees that operate terrestrial wireless networks. We also addressed the public safety and national security implications of the proposed rule.

The Department of Transportation (“Department”) is at this stage not requesting comments related to the safety and security implications of in-flight cellular transmissions or voice communications. Rather, it seeks comments “to determine whether permitting voice calls on aircraft is an unfair practice to consumers, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 41712, or would be so disruptive as to be inconsistent with adequate air transportation, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 41702.”

Our comments address the lack of empirical support for the Department’s claim of potential consumer harm resulting from voice communications, as well as the nebulous “aviation consumer protection authority” that purportedly empowers the Department to prohibit in-flight voice communications even in the absence of consumer harm.

We urge the Department to discontinue this proceeding, as intervention is unnecessary and will produce harmful results for consumers, air carriers, and wireless telecommunications providers.