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Australia moves towards cellphone green light

1st November 2008 - 18:38 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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There are signs that the regulatory tide is beginning to turn in favour of onboard cellphone. While the US Hang-Up Bill languishes in the toils of Congressional process, the Australian Government has moved to allow airborne mobile phone usage.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is proposing an amendment to current national legislation in order to permit the full commercial use of the picocell technology that forms the basis of the systems offered by AeroMobile and OnAir.

“Australia led the world when Qantas trialled AeroMobile’s inflight GSM service last year,” said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman. “There is growing recognition by regulators worldwide that these services can be deployed without interference to existing telecommunications.”

If the amendment goes through – the Australian public have until November 17 to comment – ACMA will move to develop the necessary licensing arrangements.

While the Australian are evidently convinced that onboard cellphone poses no physical threat to the safety of the aircraft, the Americans still have the air-rage bee buzzing in their bonnets. Not content with seeing a pro-mobile proposal from the Federal Communications Commission shot down two years ago by a fusillade of lobbying, two Congressmen earlier this year tabled the Hang-Up Bill, seeking to bar voice calling in perpetuity.           

Introduced with much fanfare in April, the bill was nodded through the committee stage but now looks becalmed, having been “placed on the Union calendar” at the end of September. That means it must now wait its turn to go before the Senate and House of Representatives, something that’s not likely to happen soon, given the imminent Presidential election.

The bill was widely derided at September’s WAEA conference, where it was described as an “embarrassment” to the United States. Senior opinion on that occasion suggested that there was little possibility of its moving forward to the next stage of consideration until the new year. In the meantime, other national jurisdictions are making up their own minds, while a growing body of experience from trials and the six-month-old Emirates/AeroMobile full commercial service is showing that fears of cabin bedlam are groundless.

The Shephard News Team

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