[windows2000] OT: FCC to Allow Wireless Access on Planes

  • From: "Jim Kenzig http://thethin.net" <jimkenz@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: windows2000@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2004 11:36:24 -0800 (PST)



FCC to Allow Wireless Access on Planes 

27 minutes ago 

By GENARO C. ARMAS, Associated Press Writer 

WASHINGTON - Federal regulators voted Wednesday to give airline passengers 
high-speed Internet connections while they fly. 

The unanimous vote by the Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites) 
means air travelers could be surfing the Web by 2006. 


"If there is a theme for this meeting, it is that we want (new technologies) on 
the land, in the air, and on the sea" FCC (news - web sites) Chairman Michael 
Powell said. "We are pushing the frontiers in order to bring the information 
age to all corners of the world." 


The FCC also voted to solicit comments from the public about ending the ban on 
in-flight use of cell phones. Among the issues to consider are whether 
passengers want to be surrounded by cell phone conversations. 


"The ability to communicate is a vital one, but good cell phone etiquette is 
also essential," Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said. "Our job is to see if 
this is possible and then let consumers work out the etiquette." 


David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a passenger 
advocacy group, said allowing Internet access would "make business travelers 
more efficient and while away the time for a lot of other passengers. This is 
all the wave of the future here." 


Currently, the only way passengers on domestic flights can communicate with the 
ground is through phones usually built into the seat backs. That service isn't 
very popular: It costs far more than conventional or cell phones ? about $3.99 
a minute ? and the reception often is poor. 


Of the three companies that initially offered that service on commercial jets, 
only Verizon Airfone remains. It has phones on about 1,500 jets. 


The FCC approved a measure to restructure how frequencies for such 
"air-to-ground" services are used and allow the airlines to offer wireless 
high-speed Internet connections. 


Left undecided was the issue of how many companies the FCC would allow, through 
an auction, to offer such services. Verizon Airfone maintains that letting one 
company handle the service would ensure the best quality. 


Others, including Boeing Co. and AirCell, argue for two competitors to prevent 
one company from having a monopoly. FCC officials said the auction would take 
place within a year. 


Once plans are completed and planes outfitted with the equipment, high-speed 
Internet access might be found on commercial domestic flights by 2006, said 
Jack Blumenstein, chairman and CEO of Louisville, Colo.-based AirCell. 


The timeline on when air travelers would be able to start using cell phones in 
flight is murkier, in part because both the FCC and the Federal Aviation 
Administration (news - web sites) ban the practice. 


The FCC took up the issue Wednesday in an effort to start public discussion, 
and commissioners might eventually relax the rules or lift the ban entirely. Of 
most concern to FCC officials is how using a cell phone in an airplane would 
interfere with cell phone use on the ground. 


The FAA (news - web sites) concern is over whether airborne cell phone could 
interfere with a plane's navigation and electrical systems, agency spokeswoman 
Laura Brown said. The technology used on seat-back phones and being considered 
for use for wireless Internet hookups causes no such interference. 


The FAA has commissioned a private, independent firm to study the issue. 
Results aren't due until 2006. The FAA will not make its decision on cell phone 
use until after the study is completed, Brown said. 


Allowing high-speed Internet access and cell phone use on planes could offer 
cash-strapped airline companies a new source for revenues, said Doug Wills, 
spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the major airlines' trade group. 


Still, airlines must weigh the demand for such service against the desire of 
other passengers for a quiet cabin, Wills said. "Some people see a cell-free 
environment as a good thing," he said. 

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