NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Federal regulators are set to begin discussions later this month on allowing the use of cell phones on commercial airline flights.
The Federal Communications Commission said that at its Dec. 15 meeting it will discuss possible revisions to rules prohibiting cell phone use on commercial flights. That's the first step of the process needed to lift the ban.
Cell phone use has been banned due to concerns about how it could affect an aircraft's navigation. And cell phones sometimes have trouble working when the plane is at cruising altitude because phone towers aren't built to project their signals that high.
The FCC rules have less to do with the effects on a plane's navigation than concerns that cell phones on planes could wreak havoc with cell phone systems on the ground.
While the FCC will start considering the issue next week, don't expect a decision anytime soon. The agency will have a lengthy review period, and according to one FCC spokesperson, this review period will last well into next year. Ultimately however, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will make its own decision.
The FAA says there's no proof that cell phone use on commercial flights is safe and is currently conducting its own studies. The issue is whether the signals from the phones will interfere with the pilot's ability to navigate the plane.
The RTCA, an organization that advises the FAA on technical matters, has been researching this issue. Their final report is scheduled for 2006. That report will then factor in the FAA decision, therefore a decision before 2006 would be unlikely.
But airlines eager to attract business flyers have been looking for ways to keep customers connected to the ground while in flight, including Internet and cell phones.
In July, American Airlines (Research) and cell phone maker Qualcomm (Research) held a demonstration in which in-cabin calls were made using commercially available cell phones through a small cellular base on board that connected to worldwide terrestrial phone networks.
The passengers on the plane could both receive and make calls while on the flight.
Among those making calls on that two-hour flight were government officials, executives of the two companies and reporters.
American Airlines said at that time that regular commercial application of the tested technology was at least two years away.
But the idea of having cell phones allowed on flights worried some flyers, who said they dreaded being next to someone having a loud and prolonged conversation.
"Can you imagine being in the middle seat between two business people making phone calls for 3 hours?" said Les Glass in an e-mail to CNN/Money. "What are the airlines and the FCC thinking?"
One reader suggested that to allow cell phones increased the risk of violence on board planes due to confrontations between passengers. Others suggested that cell phones only be allowed in a segregated area of the cabin.