Calls have been prohibited for 22 years over fears that they would interfere with cellular networks on the ground. Technological advances had resolved those concerns.

So, Wheeler told members of Congress Thursday, if the reason for the rule is invalid, then the rule itself is no longer valid. He compared the rule on cellphone calls to outdated rules about the telegraph that are still on the books.

In prepared remarks to a House subcommittee, Wheeler says he's called the CEOs of major airlines, telling them that the government isn't requiring them to allow calls. Ultimately, the decision will rest with individual airlines.