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Canada refuses to scrap in-flight cellphone ban


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Canada refuses to scrap in-flight cellphone ban


From Friday's Globe and Mail

Canadian authorities say they will continue to prohibit cellphone calls during flights on this country's carriers, despite moves by the United States to reconsider such a ban.

But Canadians who need to be connected in flight can take heart: There is faint hope that they might be able to surf the Internet wirelessly if Ottawa is convinced it's safe.

U.S. regulators are already moving forward on both fronts. The Federal Communications Commission voted Wednesday to allow broadband Internet access on airplanes by 2006 and put out a call for public comment on whether its prohibition on cellular phone use in the skies should be lifted.

But Transport Canada has no plans to even study the matter. “At the moment we're not looking at it,” spokeswoman Lucie Vignola said.

“But we will be looking to the studies that are being done in the United States to see if there is any need to look at it here.”

She said there has been no apparent lobby in Canada to allow cellphone use on flights.

“As far as I am aware, there have been no requests from industry or airlines for it,” Ms. Vignola said. “Whereas in the United States, as far as I understand it, there was quite a lot of pressure at that end of things.”

Cellphones have been banned on flights in Canada and the United States since their invention for fear that they could jeopardize safety and play havoc with earth-bound communication networks.

But a wave of more sophisticated technology is emerging that proponents say could route cellular calls in a safer manner that doesn't threaten aircraft. As well, over the past few years, the amount of interfering radio noise that cellphones emit has been cut significantly.

Ms. Vignola said the department is still concerned about the possible risk that cellphone “signals can mess with all of the electronics on board” planes.

The department has no plans to allow high-speed wireless Internet access on planes, she said.

But Air Canada said Thursday it is keen on offering high-speed Web access and is already investigating the idea.

“We are currently in talks with Internet service vendors and we would hope to reach a decision on future plans by early 2005,” said John Reber, Air Canada spokesman.

Ms. Vignola said Transport Canada would evaluate a carrier's request to offer such wireless service on the basis of whether it's safe.

Mr. Reber said Air Canada has no wish to challenge Transport Canada's prohibition on cellphone use, adding that market research suggests that Internet access takes precedence with passengers.

“Based on our customers' feedback, our priority will be working towards offering Internet access on board Air Canada, in line with other in-flight amenities planned,” said Mr. Reber, noting the company is also adding personal TV monitors and video-on-demand.But fast Internet connections pose another challenge: cost. Outfitting a plane with the necessary equipment runs between $100,000 and $500,000 (U.S.) — a significant outlay for cash-strapped carriers. Rates charged today range from $8 (U.S.) for 30 minutes of use to a flat $30 for flights of six hours or more.

Even if the FCC lifts its mobile phone ban, the Federal Aviation Administration — which oversees the U.S. air system — would have to drop its separate prohibition.

However, the FAA is re-examining the threat posed by the more recent generation of computer and cellular devices and could issue a conclusion next year.WestJet Airlines spokeswoman Siobhan Vinish said onboard wireless Internet access is not a priority for the carrier right now. But it's installing live satellite TV technology to new aircraft and would consider Web access later if demand warrants.She also said WestJet has applied to Ottawa for an exemption so passengers could use cellular phones as long as the aircraft is on the ground. Canadian rules stipulate that mobile phones must be turned off when cabin doors are closed.

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Opposition to airborne cell phones floods US FCC

Thu Dec 16, 2004 06:02 PM ET

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - U.S. air travelers wasted little time barraging communications regulators with hundreds of e-mails registering their opposition to ending the ban on the use of mobile phones during commercial flights.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday unanimously proposed lifting the ban if issues about safety and technical hurdles can be overcome. FCC officials said their mandate was to facilitate communications.

But the potential of scores of passengers talking on mobile phones during a lengthy flight has many travelers worried that their last quiet haven from such conversations will evaporate.

"We've received a couple hundred e-mails from the public, most of whom believe that use of devices that don't involve talking are fine, but are not looking forward to the possibility of hearing more conversations than they do now," said Lauren Patrich, a spokeswoman for the FCC wireless bureau.

The FCC's consumer bureau also received more than 1,200 e-mails on the subject.

During a meeting on Wednesday to adopt the proposal, FCC commissioners acknowledged their hesitation at the impact of allowing air travelers to use their wireless phones while aloft but said those decisions were outside the agency's purview.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration also has a ban against the use of communications devices aboard airplanes. Officials from both agencies have said it will probably be two years before the ban could be lifted, if at all.

Some who sent comments to the FCC expressing fears suggested that if the ban is lifted and wireless service is allowed on board, the airlines should separate those who want to use their phones behind a partition.

Another person worried that the airlines could start charging a premium to passengers who want a flight that does not allow the use of mobile phones.

Amtrak rail service in the northeast section of the United States, including its flagship route between Boston and Washington, offers one car on most trains where wireless phones are banned and conversation must be kept to a whisper at most.

The so-called quiet car was instituted after Amtrak received a request from a frequent passenger who had grown tired of the increasing volume of fellow travelers using their phones, according to Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black.

"We decided to give it a try as a pilot project and it was very popular," he said. "Eventually it has spread."

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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She said there has been no apparent lobby in Canada to allow cellphone use on flights.

There in lies the difference..... did anyone notice that shortly after Bush's visit that Canada is now shutting down thw internet pharmacies??????

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