No Cell Phone Signals in Theaters?

posted by sdoerr on December 19, 2005 at 2:12 pm

The National Association of Theater Owners has requested that the FCC allow the blocking of cell phone signals inside movie theaters, according to this report from United Press International.

John Fithian, the president of the trade organization, told the Los Angeles Times theater owners “have to block rude behavior” as the industry tries to come up with ways to bring people back to the cinemas.

Fithian said his group would petition the FCC for permission to block cell phone signals within movie theaters.

Some theaters already have no cell phone policies and ask moviegoers to check their phones at the door, Fithian said.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association — a Washington-based cell phone lobby that is also known as CTIA-the Wireless Association — said it would fight any move to block cell phone signals.

Comments (30)

dictionary101 on December 19, 2005 at 3:26 pm

I worked in the cell phone industry for nearly 10 years and I can say that this request will most assuredly receive vigorous opposition from cell phone companies and many consumers, me among them.

Several years ago a tornado hit a movie theater in Ohio. From the reports I heard, if it weren’t for the quick action on the part of the theater’s management and staff, and the ability to make cell phone calls when the power went out, those in the theater may not have fared as well as they did.

People’s rude behavior needs to be changed, not our access to communications tools that could save lives.

Theaterat on December 19, 2005 at 3:51 pm

Halleluah, halleluah halleluah!

Bud K
Bud K on December 19, 2005 at 4:16 pm

I agree the Rude behavior needs to be changed or simply start asking the person to leave when a Phone goes off or disturbs a patron thats right – kick them out of the theater ! Plus We need to make the
slide that asks them nicely to turn them Off, Put it up in White Letters on a black Background – TURN OFF YOUR CELLPHONE NOW !
it might get the message

Merry Christmas

sdoerr on December 19, 2005 at 5:57 pm

I agree

Cell phones maybe needed in an emergency such as a death in a family. I see putting the cell phone in silent or beeper mode in case an emergency occurs.

pbubny on December 19, 2005 at 7:15 pm

Much as I detest cells in theatres, concert halls, etc., I have to agree that entirely blocking access to them poses potential problems. OTOH, getting people to change their behavior is problematic, too—i.e. how do you persuade moviegoers to think of their own yakking during a movie as rude and inconsiderate when cell phone use EVERYWHERE is the norm?

Chet Cuccia
Chet Cuccia on December 19, 2005 at 7:43 pm

Since there will always be rude people, I agree that cell phone signals should be blocked inside movie theatres. If someone thinks that they will receive an important call during the movie, then they shouldn’t go to the movie in the first place. I can’t see why people can’t go for two to three hours without talking on a phone.

KenLayton on December 19, 2005 at 8:50 pm

In the times we live in today, terrorism, criminal activity, natural disasters, robberies, health problems, etc. requires we need access at all times to that cell phone. Just last night I heard on my police scanner a woman had a severe seizure right in the auditorium during the movie. The dispatcher reported to the medics that the call was received from a cell phone call by a theater patron in the auditorium. That cell phone caller was able to direct medics to the exact auditorium and seat. A person’s life was saved by this cell phone call when critical seconds counted.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 19, 2005 at 8:58 pm

Why do they need the FCC’s approval to do this? I assume they’re referring to installing insulation that would block signals, rather than jamming the signals.

Theaterat on December 20, 2005 at 1:02 am

Somebody please tell me. What did we do BEFORE cell phones became standard equipment for nearly everybody on earth?If the signals are blocked- and they should be- the manager or whoever is in charge can always use the good old fashioned house phone. While cell phones do offer some beneficial uses, their abuse and overuse is getting to be too much.I see that now many restaurants and other establishments are offering “Cell Free” environments. I simply DO NOT want to hear somebodys useless or unnecessary conversation when I am enjoying a meal-or a movie. Posted by Theaterat for PhilPhil

jackhicko on December 20, 2005 at 2:44 am

A cell phone is a silly toy for teenagers and it never stopped any of the above-mentioned “disasters”. “Hello, a tornado is striking the theater!” How useful! The woman with the severe seizure only had stomach cramps and her life wasn’t saved…it merely ruined King King for 400 patrons. I doubt if cell phones have saved more than 100 lives IN HISTORY! We all need to bring laser pointers and shine them in the eyes of these people. I will pay $20 admission to any theater which begins blocking these stupid, pointless, self-indulgent “phone-sturbations”.

focus on December 20, 2005 at 3:27 pm

There is a device that is in current operation in some theatres today. The device is attached just outside the projection port for maxium coverage of the auditorium. It blocks all cell calls inside the theatre auditorium. This prevents a cell phone user from receiving or making calls while inside the auditorium. Theatre management has posted outside of the box office, and in the lobby, a notice to patrons that state, So our patrons may enjoy their show, free from unwanted and distracting cell phone calls, your cell phone will not receive a signal in our auditoriums during the performance. If you wish to use your cell phone while attending a performance, you must return to our lobby or exit the theatre to do so. Thank you for your understanding, The Management.

The patron has a choice if they wish to use their cell phone, one is go to the lobby and receive or make your call, or you may go outside and do the same. The theatre patrons inside the auditoruim do not have to listen, to an unwanted and distracting conversation, or ringing cell phone in the middle of a performance. This works great, since you do not have to confront a patron about the use of their phones, and it solves all the patron complaints to management about cell phone use in the auditoriums during a performance.

As far as emergencies go, theatre management can page anyone, anywhere in the theatre and request that they come to the office, they have done it for years! A cell phone user can go to the lobby and make their phone call quickly. The systems is set up to activate when the performance begins and deactivates once the performance is over. It also will not be active during a power outage either. This system has put an end to cell phone abuse.

PeterApruzzese on December 20, 2005 at 3:49 pm

That blocking system would be illegal in the United States as the laws currently stand. Many theatres do not have auditorium paging systems – I’ve never heard one in all my years of going to and working in theatres.

focus on December 20, 2005 at 4:16 pm

If there is no paging system in the auditorium, it goes back to paging 101, the usher goes in the auditorium and pages the patron. If you do not want your cell phone signal blocked, the policy is posted at the box office and in the lobby, you have the choice in buying a ticket to see the performance. As far as legality goes, I do not think a prosecutor would waste their time or resources on that one, they have better things to to with their day. The exhibitor has made a reasonalbe accomadation to the patron and has just limited the use of cell phones to certain areas, not prevented the patron from using it in the lobby or outside. The exhibitors position is, take us to court if you don’t like the policy, or go somewhere else.

PeterApruzzese on December 20, 2005 at 5:27 pm

It’s federal law to tamper with cell phone communication signals, it’s not a lightweight thing. See the stories about the guy in New Jersey who is being prosecuted for innocently focusing a key-chain laser beam onto an airplane from his backyard.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 20, 2005 at 5:35 pm

There’s a Federal law against building a Faraday cage?

PeterApruzzese on December 20, 2005 at 9:15 pm

No, if a building’s design causes it to block the signals, that is not against the law. Using a device such as a cell phone jammer to jam or block signals is against the law.

NoSpamHere on December 21, 2005 at 1:42 am

Regarding the option of “blocking” cell phone usage in theater’s…
it is NOT necessary to actively “jam” such signals for theater’s to block cell phone usage. “Jamming” licensed frequencies would probably be illegal anyway.

However, theater’s could line their walls and ceiling’s with a fine brass mesh to create what is known as a “faraday cage” – that will effectively block radio signals from penetrating.

That might be a little expensive retro-fit, but surely not for new construction. But, would be worth the money in anti-cellphone patrons they would get by promoting a cell-phone and pager-free movie viewing experiencing. Basically, it would be like going go a movie in the 1970’s when nobody had cell phones or pager’s – must less Blackberries and such.

I suspect this approach would not require any regulatory approval, since it is pure architechural. As far as the cell phones/pagers would know, it would be like building a theatre in side a cave – they just wouldn’t be able to get a signal.

I’m suprised that this idea has never been brought-up in the media, since everyone in the RF business knows about this “faraday cage” technique. They even used it on the Discovery channel show “Myth Busters” to test an RF-related myth without interfering with any licensed frequencies.

Of course, you won’t see anyone from the telecommunications business suggesting this idea, because air-time = revenue.

focus on December 21, 2005 at 2:35 am

It is know as pasive blocking like the system I outlined in my earlier post. Passive blocking is not illegal in the U.S. The system passively blocks the cell phone from making or receiving calls in a controlled enviorment, it does allow the cell call to go to voice mail, so the patron may receive their message when they check their voice mail. There are also systems that would prevent the cell phone from ringing. Passive blocking is not cell phone jamming. Another way to passive block RF cell phone siganls from getting into the auditorium, is to line the perimeter with chicken wire, that can be attached to the drywall behind the sound fold. It must however be grounded, so the system has a shielding effect. The best ground would be the theatres water sprinkler system.

garymey on December 22, 2005 at 2:07 pm

At the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco we have posted:

“We employ DESTRUCTO-CELL ….please turn off your cell phones to prevent them from self-destructing when they ring.”

In a nice frame is a cell phone that has partially exploded with a severed (rubber) finger on one of the phone keys. A note states that phone self-destructed during the 7:15 showing of Amelie on June 12, 2001.

It is an attention-getter, generates some laughter…and some concern.

I was in New York recently and before a play on Broadway a very real sounding cell phone ring went off, but loud. You could see people turning around to find out who had such an offensive cell phone. Then a voice came over the loudspeaker reminding us why we should turn off our phones (or at least put them on vibrate).

I have seen various clever approaches. I work with the Telluride Film Festival and we instituted a strict policy against cell phones and recording devices. One of the best received intros I did was when I had the house manager call my cell phone while I was welcoming the audience. I answered it, a little embarrased, and said, “Yes, I am just about to ask the audience to turn off their cell phones. Thanks.” I then asked them to join me as I turned mine off.

Sadly, there are people who will not turn them off or even silence them. A patron at Telluride said to me, “I’ve taken it into my own hands. If I see someone using a cell phone during the show, I nicely but firmly ask them to please turn it off now. If they don’t I ask again so that their other neighbors hear my request. Peer pressure works.”

During an advance screening of KING KONG at the Metreon (famous for young people talking to friends in the same theater via cell phone), the middle hour of non-stop action seemed cell phone free but as soon as things stopped for some dialogue, the little blue glows lit up all over the 550 seater as people checked their email and presumably sent text messages about what they’d seen. I find this equally distracting as those lights are bright and illuminate everything around.

As to paging people, I remember the Uptown Theatre and Kay-Von Drive-In in Napa, California (both Blumenfeld Theatres) used a slide to page people. It would come on screen stating “Dr. Harry Jones – You have an urgent phone call in the lobby.” They would also put on a slide, “The snack bar closes in 10 minutes.” This was a useful reminder and a lot less disruptive than a verbal page ——don’t you hate it on an airplane when they make announcements during an important dialogue scene rather than freeze the show (some do that).

What a sensible solution that today’s video projectors in so many places could be used for.

JimRankin on December 23, 2005 at 9:58 am

While a Farady cage (passive blocking, called SHIELDING) MAY stop signals from outside the theatre/cinemas, it will do nothing to block the signals generated inside an auditorium and received there by other devices. For these inside-the-building situations, only a jamming device would help, though its legality may be open to question.

It should be noted that while passive shielding (the Farady cage) is possible, it is NOT easily accomplished, since even tiny gaps in the necessary complete metallic coverage will allow some signals to penetrate, as the spy and counter-spy industries could so ruefully tell you. The adequacy of shielding against any one frequency is very problematic since it takes the calculations of an engineer to determine what frequency the shielding resonates at. The further the undesired frequency is from the resonant frequency of one’s shielding, the less effective the shield will be. Know that virtually no shielding within reasonable cost is totally effective, so if you apply passive shielding as with carefully earth grounded metal mesh behind the walls, you must start out with the acceptance of the fact that it probably will NOT be totally effective.

In new construction, metal mesh shielding that is carefully and non-corrosively bonded electrically panel-to-panel, as well as thoroughly earth grounded as one would use a ground rod to ground a TV mast, then it may prove helpful and cost effective. Antennas can be mounted outside the shielded areas and their signals routed inside it by means of Shielded Cables if one wants to import TV or other radio signals to some receiver indoors, but notch filters may still be required to eliminate undesireable frequencies. The design and installation of such shielding and grounding would be much more successful if put in the care of a Radio Frequency technician or engineer. A successful shield requires scrupulous attention to detail in specifying the proper mesh and carefully overlaping it, as well as the high quality of an earth ground that is almost not resonant at any frequency, which provides greatest degree of grounding. Note that shielding NOT successfully grounded with the least resonance, inductance, resistance, and capacitance may well be totally ineffective, and worse, it can act as a reflecting antenna that can sometimes intensify unwanted signals in certain areas!

Theaterat on December 23, 2005 at 1:39 pm

Very provocative subject!

drrand on February 17, 2006 at 8:29 pm

Why all of this discussion in regards to cell phones in theaters? Let’s target all of this energy to fix real problems. Let me decide on the course of action in regards to cell phone usage in theaters, and we can then leave it at that:

Big deal, so a cell phone goes off in a theater, fing live with it. It’s not the end of the world. Most people put their cell phones on vibrate anyway. I actually had an emergency while watching a movie and I was able to be contacted via my cell phone (it was on vibrate), luckily, as it was a life and death situation. If ONE life can be saved via a cell phone in a movie theater, then it is worth putting up with a brief ringing noise. I mean, Jesus Christ, aren’t there enough REAL problems in the world to deal with other than a fing cell phone ringing in a f*ing theater. Please, let’s put things into perspective.

Oh, and by the way, to theaterat…, live with it. What did we do before cars? What did we do before electricity? Maybe your fing highbeams on your fing car hurt my eyes….maybe we should ban headlights. TV is corrupting our minds, maybe we should ban that too.

No wonder this world is falling apart….instead of dealing with important issues, we are focusing our attention on crap like this.

To whomever said a prosecutor wouldn’t waste their time, um, you are wasting your time even thinking about such a stupid topic. And by the way, a prosecutor would handle this type of case, it would a civil case. And yes, they would take it if it was breaking the law.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 17, 2006 at 8:36 pm

Sure, it’s not the most important thing, but it IS one of the things that is causing some people to stop attending movie theatres. And if enough people stop going to the theatres, how are we going to preserve them?

drrand on February 17, 2006 at 8:51 pm

Well, my guess is that less people would attend. I wouldn’t go if cell phone signals were blocked. Of course, that’s just me…..I’m sure to most people it wouldn’t matter. I apologize for my ranting….it’s just we have crooked politicians, crooked cops, innocent people on death row, homeless people, cancer, etc…, and we get more worked up over cell phones in theaters.

Can anyone honestly say that a ringing cell phone has utterly ruined, beyond repair, a movie experience? Crying babies bother me more than cell phones.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 17, 2006 at 9:05 pm

And some of us get worked up about theatres closing or being demolished. That too may seem like a minor issue compared to the ones you list … but it’s why this web site exists.

Movies should be an escape from the annoyances of real life — and that includes cell phones.

JimRankin on February 18, 2006 at 11:12 am

Yes, ‘importantthings’ is right that cell phone annoyances are just that and hardly rate among the Important Things of life that are discussed daily in the media. But most people are well aware of those problems but can do little or nothing about them. Rest assured that God is well aware of our problems and has already set in motion His purpose by which to eliminate them according to His timetable. But here most people complain about this annoyance which they feel that people can do something about. This annoyance may indeed be just a ‘tempest in a teapot’ compared to the ills of the world, but that is the ‘teapot’ they have chosen to enter and let off some steam in, on this web site. For that relevant carping they should NOT be criticized, for this site is about theatres and what happens in them.

focus on February 18, 2006 at 6:39 pm

You go importantthings, I see that you do not have time to address the important issues you speak about on here like homlessness, cancer ect… because you are to warpped up in what other peoples opinions are. Why don’t you take your head out of your azz and call someone who cares. Get on your precious cell phone and call the Center for Disease Control and bitch to them for not having a cure for cancer, then you can call your local food bank and find out when and where you can pick up a couple of bags of food to take to someone who is homeless, or better yet take your hypocritical azz down and pick up a couple of the homeless and give them shelter and a warm bed to sleep in.

Oh by the way, I am the one who said the prosecutor would not waste their time on prosecuting a theatre owner who blocked a cell call. If you ever took the time to educate yourself on the topic, you will note that I spoke about passive blocking, which is not illegal in the U.S. to do. So go rant somewhere else about subjects you know nothing about.

jackhicko on June 3, 2006 at 10:55 pm

I see here that IMPORTANTTHINGS has no favorite movies under “profile”. Duh! I suppose it’s similarly okay to let it ring in the library? It is only partly the ringing sound and also it is the brazen insensitivity of I ME MINE. By the way, I actually DID start using a laser pointer and IT WORKS REALLY WELL!

jackhicko on July 21, 2006 at 7:02 am

Well, it just doesn’t matter anymore because all the fools ran out of money and can’t afford their cellphone bills! Now they only send text messages and have to check them CONSTANTLY. Watching a movie now means looking at one big screen and 10-20 little blue ones. While I’m here, how does receiving an emergency call in a theater help anyone? It just tells you which hospital to go to! Since it’s probably evening, the hospital won’t let you visit anyway.

PeaceNYC2008 on December 15, 2006 at 5:40 am

Importantthings: you are what gives cell phone users a very bad name—self absorbed, narcissistic. I have had MANY theater and cinema experiences deeply marred by a person with your attitude sitting in front of me or next to me: bright, blue glowing phones are SMALL TELEVISIONS. Why be so obtuse about that issue? Cellphones brightly shining in dark theaters is highly distracting, takes away from the theater/cinema-going experience, completely. Cell phone users: you have no right, at all, to do this to your fellow patron. We leave our homes to see films and theater to actually have a cultural experience—not to watch you play with your small TV in your hands compulsively. I believe the $50.00 fine for usage of cells in movie theaters and theaters needs to be upheld, and nationwide. Legislate manners, why not?

Why is anyone paying as much as $100 for a theater ticket or $11 for a film ticket, only to not allow themselves 2-hours off to enjoy, completely and thoroughly, the experience of seeing a theater piece or a film? And since when did being rude to actors on stage and not being mindful constitute a rant such as yours? Option: stay home if your addiction to your cell phone is that high a level, which it clearly is. Emergencies. Baloney. Anyone expecting an emergency will do the right thing, and stay close to home to deal with it. Yeah right, during tornadoes, cell phones work (they do NOT work during tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.)…..that story was fabricated to support the rationalized argument that being incredibly rude with one’s cell is “okay”.

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