When a regulator opens one door, leave it to another to slam it shut again.
The Department of Transportation is now looking at regulations to ban in-flight mobile calls, which, as you might recall, are about to be allowed by the Federal Communications Commission. As we have pointed out before, the ban was never necessary in the first place, since original concerns over safety were overblown.
Now, it isn't safety, but simply because people don't like the idea of someone yakking away mid-flight.
"Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight and I am concerned about this possibility as well," said DOT head Anthony Foxx.
"Troubled" is an interesting word. Regulations grow typically because of public safety. Certainly, the protection of the public is usually cited as the reason governments print reams of rules affecting businesses each year. But, if the DOT bans in-flight cellphone use, what is it protecting the public against? Boorish behavior? TMI?
There are two issues at stake here, both near and dear to the entrepreneurial community. The first is personal freedom. People should have the privilege of using their technology when safe to do so. Period. We are talking about a ban on social interractions simply for fear they may bother someone -- and codifiying that ban through the promulgation of regulations in an already over-regulated marketplace. This is a regulatory land grab. Yes, you may get annoyed because the dolt in the middle seat talks nonstop, but the government should not be mobilized to protect some perceived right you have to sleep soundly on the redeye.
And then there is the second issue, which is the opportunity for innovation. There are already noise-cancelling headphones on the market. Most folks listen to music or watch movies on longer flights anyway. In fact, the beauty of flights nowadays is that everyone flies to their own soundtracks, oblivious to all but the most violent turbulence. We find a way to pass the time. Lifting the ban on cellphone use creates a whole new market for innovators to pursue in noise-avoidance technology. Whether through Bose or by blasting Bjork, we can find a way to cope, without the government's help.