Recently, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Tom Wheeler opened up to public comment the agency’s decision whether to permit the use of cell phones on airline flights.
This decision follows the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) decision to allow airlines to safely expand passenger use of consumer electronics during all phases of flight.
Chairman Wheeler recently announced his own views: “The job of the FCC with respect to this issue is limited to issues related to communications technology. Technology is available and being deployed today on flights outside the United States that permits use of mobile devices on planes without causing interference to cell phone networks on the ground. These advances in technology likely no longer warrant – on a technological basis – the prohibition of in-flight phone use with the appropriate on-board equipment.”
He went on to further note that “[w]e understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself. Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines’ decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while airborne.”
Therefore, Chairman Wheeler’s decision to open the controversial issue up to public commentary took an act of political courage. The FCC recognizes that its charge is limited to technological issues, and such restraint should permit free market forces to work to set the correct level of regulation.
Further, Chairman Wheeler is also advancing the position that rewriting “net neutrality” rules to require a flat playing field for all Internet providers may be a form of potentially unwarranted interference with the free market’s desire to offer faster Internet connections to those who want to pay for them.
Many commentators agree, and argue effectively that Internet access is no different than any other commodity subject to market forces: “Wouldn’t it be great if a two bedroom, 2,000 square foot apartment on Park Avenue cost the same as one in Queens? Or if a front row ticket to a Broadway show cost the same as one in the mezzanine? Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a new BMW for the same amount as a new Hyundai? Or if the price of a Harvard education were equal to one from your local community college? These things are priced differently. They are not neutral. Nothing is neutral in a free market economy."
Chairman Wheeler’s willingness to discuss the proper level of governmental regulation of the free market in the mobile telephone and Internet access situations is a breath of fresh air in a political environment too often filled with federal agencies seeking to perennially expand their regulatory power and exert leverage over the free market, regardless of consequence.
The Chairman should be applauded for his courage in entertaining these important discussions in such a toxic political environment.