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FCC eases airlines’ path to in-flight broadband

Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:49pm
Brian Santo

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted rules that will serve to help airlines more expeditiously roll out in-flight broadband.

The rules streamline the process for airlines applying for a license to offer Internet service onboard during flights. The FCC said it may speed up the process by as much as 50 percent.

In-flight is hardly new. The Commission said it has been authorizing airlines to offer high-speed Internet on flights via an ad hoc basis since 2001. The new rules simply create a consistent framework for airlines wishing to apply for applications to provide the service.

On-board Wi-Fi has become increasingly in demand by travelers. Delta has been particularly aggressive in rolling out the service. Recently, the three biggest airlines announced they would offer the service on international flights.

In order to provide broadband, airlines operate Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAA), which communicate with Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) geostationary orbit (GSO) space stations.

The FCC said its Report and Order on the subject formalizes ESAA as a licensed application in the FSS and establishes a regulatory framework for processing applications while ensuring other radio service operations are protected from harmful interference. Rather than have to license on-board systems on an ad hocbasis, airlines will be able to test systems that meet FCC standards, establish that they do not interfere with aircraft systems and get FAA approval, the agency said.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said: “Whether traveling for work or leisure, Americans increasingly expect broadband access everywhere they go. These new rules will help airlines and broadband providers offer high-speed Internet to passengers, including by accelerating by up to 50 percent the processing of applications to provide broadband on planes. This will enable providers to bring broadband to planes more efficiently, helping passengers connect with friends, family or the office.”

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