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FCC chief’s swan song: in-flight broadband

In-flight Broadband

Better broadband just might be coming to a middle seat near you.

Julius Genachowski is preparing to exit the top spot at the Federal Communications Commission, and it looks like he’s planning on going out with a crowd-pleasing finale. Gadget junkies rejoice – the FCC is looking at a new rule to expand broadband access for airline passengers in flight.

Right now, airlines can offer Internet connections through satellite services to passengers – sometimes charging for the privilege. The FCC is looking at dedicating a swath of radio spectrum in the 14.0-14.5 gigahertz band for an “Air-Ground Mobile Broadband service.” The spectrum is currently used by amateur radio operators.

Genachowski has long been critical of restrictions governing the use of electronic devices including tablets and e-readers in flights during takeoff and landing. Last year he urged the Federal Aviation Administration to change its policies on devices in a letter to agency head Michael Huerta.

Now the FCC is poised to allow the deployment of in-flight broadband, pending a new rulemaking, which will kick off at the agency’s May 9 open meeting. The notice of proposed rulemaking would be followed by a lot of technical discussion among industry stakeholders. If the FCC votes to approve the spectrum allocation, a spectrum auction would follow before the launch of a commercial service. Assuming such an offering does get off the ground, it could provide connection speeds comparable to home broadband. Chinese firm ZTE recently announced the successful test of such a system, with speeds in excess of 12 megabits per second.

Admittedly, this is not a federal IT issue per se -- agency-controlled sprectrum is being eyed for different uses entirely -- but what computer-toting traveller isn't interested in airborn broadband?

Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Apr 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM


Reader comments

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 Irked

What of the current users of the spectrum? Will a proper analysis be doen to ensure the rights of these amatuer radio enthusiasts are protected? And why is there mention of a Chinese company concerning a demonstration of a technology in this arena? This is U.S. radio spectrum, keep the Chinese OUT of it. And while we are at it, why are we concentrating on an airborne technology? We should be focused on getting a true broadband service deployed natiuonwide on the GROUND. More people would use it there than in the air.

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