Cinemas jamming mobile phone signals

Via Boing Boing – the US’s National Association of Theater Owners wants the FCC’s permission to block mobile reception inside cinemas. To be honest I thought this already happened in some places… maybe I’d mentally linked it to office buildings with Faraday cage wall structures to prevent eavesdropping on wireless data transfer; I don’t know how common these are in general, but would guess that more sensitive workplaces have had these for a long time.

As an architecture of control, the phone signal blocking is (suprisingly rarely!) something which appears to have both commercial benefits and ‘social’ benefits (see diagram, and discussion), although the social benefits are for the majority of the cinema audience rather than society as a whole. It’s a case where the commercial benefits from more satisfied customers are presumably considered important enough to make it worthwhile satisfying those consumers–can anyone think of any other examples of architectures of control designed to do this?

Of course, the problem with not being able to dial emergency services may be significant, although one would hope that the cinema staff would be able to use a land line to do that if alerted. What might be a more worrying problem is the audience not being able to receive messages/calls–imagine a situation where some urgent or critical news (e.g. “Come home, your house is on fire”) can’t be communicated to someone simply because he or she is in the cinema. Yes, before cellular phones (and pagers) that wouldn’t have been an issue anyway, but it is now.


  1. Steve marx

    Seems kind silly to bother with blocking all the cell phone signals. I wonder if it would really be a csot efficient way to get more patrons to watch a movie. Compared to how many people do not go to movies right now cause of cell phones I doubt it would really benefit theatres.

  2. Chase

    I believe that it is a bad idea to block cell phone signals in theatres. The chance of missing an emergency phone call should be reason enough for this not to happen. Also, there are ways that would not disturb those around you like text messaging. Texting would not bother anyone around so it should not be blocked.

  3. Jordan

    To block someone’s phone calls at a movie should never be legal. The article brings up a good point when it talks about the emergency calls not being able to get through. I would think if they would block your calls and you miss an important call, you could sue them. Afer all, what are they protecting, movies?

  4. Sarah

    I just got back from the latest Batman movie. Unfortunately we sat in the back and there had to have been at least 20-25 people that “needed to text” sometime during the movie. I say block them all. If that means that on some RARE occassion, someone can’t get “an important message” while they are in the theatre then that’s too bad – as a society we can play “what if” all day long. But the most common thing is that there’s simply some JERK who’s messing things up for the rest of us – and the theatres aren’t doing anything about it.

  5. Tim

    I think blocking of mobile signals at theatres and cinemas is something to be considered, before they existed we survived without up to the minute buletins on life. If a doctor on call was at the theatre he could always register with the ticket desk. The more important places that should have mobile phone jamming are such as: petrol stations, prisons, and other areas where it is illegal to use phones.

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