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Theaters in a cellphone jam

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The scene is all too familiar to the modern moviegoer: The theater is pin-drop quiet as Ben and Jen are about to declare undying love for each other. Suddenly, the latest ring tone from Coldplay or 50 Cent blares from a teenager's purse, filling the darkened movie house. Not only is the moment lost, but so is the next, and the one after that, as patrons shush the naughty teen while she giggles her way through a phone chat with a friend. "I'm at a movie ... a movie! Right, where do you want to meet? Oh, it's really good, I'll tell you all about it. Later!"

This could all change. This past week the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) pondered blocking cellphone signals as a way to improve the cinema experience. The idea was a hot topic in the nation's gambling capital this past week when theater owners from coast to coast met to preview the summer lineups from movie studios and trade tips on combating falling movie theater attendance. The 6,000-strong membership of NATO voted to authorize its board to look into changing federal laws that currently prevent them from using cellphone-jamming equipment in theaters.

"We have an issue with rude patron behavior," says John Fithian, president of NATO. "Cellphones going off in theaters is the most pronounced problem," he says, adding that a recent NATO survey of theatergoers showed that nearly 80 percent favored some form of cellphone jamming. "The overwhelming majority of our own members support the idea as well."

For the moment, cellphone-jamming equipment is illegal in the US, even for agencies such as local police or fire departments. However, other countries are beginning to crack down on rude cellphone users. France recently changed its laws to allow movie theaters to use the jamming technology. A number of Catholic churches in Mexico use Israeli military jamming gear to stop parishioners from interrupting services with their wireless chatting (presumably with mere mortals).


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