DT Debates: Should businesses be able to block cell phone reception?

DT Debates: Should business' be able to block cell phone reception?

For many of us, it’s gotten to the point where our smartphones may as well be attached to our hands. At the same time, Wi-Fi access is spreading and broadband signal getting stronger. It’s the perfect setup for constant connectivity — and some businesses aren’t so happy about it. Should places that prefer quiet and focus, like movie theaters or bookstores, be allowed to block our signal by using cell phone jammers, or do consumers have a right to all-the-time phone and Internet availability? Writers Ryan Fleming and Natt Garun debate whether or not businesses should be able to force us to just put down the phone… at least inside their doors. 

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For me, it comes down to a matter of choice. I have no problem with businesses using cell phone jammers, assuming that they let the consumers know well beforehand. I’m a big believer in capitalism.  Not the Gordon Gecko style and Ayn Rand makes my brain bleed for multiple reasons, but I believe that capitalism is one of the most realistic forms of democracy available to us today.  If people are given the choice to go to a theater that jams their cell phones, or take their money to another theater that doesn’t, the market will decide. Customers will either support it or not, and that choice should be ours.

Businesses have the right to choose what they think will make their product or service better.  If they believe their fortunes will improve by blocking cell phones, they are welcome to try it.  Cell phones are still a luxury item.  As much as we have grown to incorporate our phones into our lifestyles, those phones are a privilege, not a right. Let the markets decide whether or not a business should be allowed to let cell phones be used or not. If there are two equally nice theaters near me, one without jammers, and the other that prohibits idiots from having full conversations during the middle of a film, I know which theater I’m going to.




I don’t know, forced cell phone jamming seems a bit extreme. Using cell phones isn’t like smoking cigarette in public parks — one doesn’t harm the other in a physical way. Businesses should respect customer’s right to the service they pay for separately, and trust that when they enter establishments that request silence, customers are mature enough to follow suit. If they do not, then the business has the right to escort them out of their venue. Blocking cell phones immediately as you enter a theater seems rather much. What if you receive an emergency text in the middle of the film? At least if your phone is on vibrate, you can remember to check that you received something after the movie is over.

Speaking of emergencies, these are the very situation cell phones would be the most handy. What if a theater catches on fire in the middle of a screening, or a fight breaks out? Blocked cell phone service during such situations would be harmful to both the parties involved and bystanders in the scenario.

While I agree that people using cell phones in quiet areas is still an issue and can cause businesses to achieve less fortune, there are other ways around this than to jam service off entirely. Take for example an app called HexRinger that can be programmed so that when you enter a part of town or address, your phone automatically switches to Silent or Vibrate. This would help with those who forget to turn their phones off or down. If businesses want to curb cell phone usage in quiet areas, working in a more user-friendly way rather than something draconian might be the better option.




I used to be a smoker, but I have been nicotine free for over five years.  I despise the acrid smell of cigarettes, and I don’t like to be around it. I love that when I go to a bar or a restaurant I no longer have to endure the smell of smoke. That said, businesses should have had the choice to let people smoke in their establishments or not.  I would have gone out of my way to choose a place that didn’t allow smoking inside and I think eventually most people would have as well.  That is a choice we should have had.  With cell phones, there is no gray area though.

Cell phones don’t give off a byproduct that can cause others nearby health problems like cigarettes, so there is no legal justification to regulate the use of cell phones.  It should be left to the discretion of businesses, and that in turn will let people decide whether or not cell phones should be banned.




Just as secondhand smoking is a health hazard, limiting the availability of cell phone service in a commercial establishment is also a safety hazard, as I’ve mentioned above. Let’s take the situation out of movie theaters and bookstores and say, a university classroom. Most schools allow students to sign up for emergency alerts via text messages and/or e-mails. Sure, you’re not supposed to fudge with your phone during class but these little things that take just a second to look at can truly save someone’s life in a lockdown situation. It’s really a matter of trusting consumers to know when to not be disruptive. I don’t think businesses have the right to discipline consumers on appropriate cell phone use by making it unavailable entirely.

And while yes, businesses can choose to jam or not jam cell phone service depending on clientele, if one business jams phones and other businesses hurt because of it, eventually all businesses will catch up to the same technology in order to compete. Then what will happen to us if something goes wrong and we can’t access any service?




Humans survived before we had smartphones and we can survive a few moments without them. If you are in a situation where you may be called away at any second because of a life threatening situation where someone may absolutely need to contact you urgently at any second, you probably shouldn’t be going to a theater anyway. If you are in class, tell whoever that you will be out of reach for an hour.  If it is that big an emergency, stay home.

But putting that aside, many theaters already don’t allow people to talk during a movie.  If you do, you will be asked to shut it, or you could be asked to leave. Then again, some theaters don’t really care about that and you can talk through the entire movie if you want.  Those theaters earn a reputation for hosting unruly crowds, and I would go out of my way to avoid one.

Talking in a theater bugs everyone else in the theater.  It just takes one jerk to ruin the experience for everyone, and a cell phone in a theater can do the same thing.  Imagine going to a buffet where one guy decides the lettuce needs a ton of salt.  Why should a minority be allowed to ruin it for everyone.

Businesses should have the right to decide what sort of ambience or experience they want their customers to have.  If a restaurant said no cell phones, I may go to another restaurant.  That’s my choice as the consumer. Let the market decide, not another law.  Humanity will survive a few hours without cell phones, and I will happily accept that loss of signal to avoid someone ruining a movie (or service) because they think their texts/tweets/calls are more important than the experience of everyone around them.




I agree wholeheartedly that a consumer experience can be destroyed to one jerk who ruins it for everyone else. But this is where developers, marketers, and any creative minds can flourish. Sometimes we choose to go to a certain theater because it is located in the most convenient location, or the showtime works out the best. Instead of downright shutting cell phone service against consumers for the sake of a tranquil theater, we as technology enthusiasts should encourage people to come up with better solutions. The HexRinger app is one way to do it, or perhaps movie theaters should build an NFC chip or QR code that can be installed right on the seat’s armrest so people can scan their phone and automatically put it on silent as soon as they are seated. Another solution might be for businesses to take further, physical action to keep their locations courteous of noise levels. Make better advertisements or PSA’s before the movie starts to remind users to silence their phones rather than just a bland message on a screen — no one pays attention to that. Take for example when Kung Fu Panda 2 created an advertisement for its movie while requesting viewers to turn down their phones before the screening. This is a much more polite and courteous way to ask someone to be respectful while entertaining the masses.

Cell phone jamming is just a controversial and lazy way out. I believe that we have the creativeness to be better, and when you trust consumers to be respectful of their cell usage, they may equally be respectful to your establishment’s rules as well. If not, getting kicked out for being noisy is always a good way to learn to behave.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


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