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FCC Eases Restrictions on In-Flight Broadband Service

FCC Chairman Recognizes Universal Availability of Broadband

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Turning off or disabling wireless service on smartphones and other wireless devices has been as familiar to air travelers as fastening seatbelts and observing "No Smoking" messages. According to a recent FCC release, the availability of broadband on U.S. flights will soon be increased. By easing restrictions on airlines applying for permission to provide in-flight broadband service, it will provide airline passengers with yet another location to access the Internet.

Universal access to broadband has been a consistent priority of the Obama Administration. As President Obama has said: “To lead the world to a new future of productivity and prosperity … we have to connect all of America to 21st century infrastructure [and] raise the standards for broadband speed.”

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In the news release accompanying the FCC order, broadband is recognized as a spur to economic growth and job creation:

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a Report and Order establishing rules to help speed the deployment of Internet services onboard aircraft. The Commission’s action enables broadband providers to meet increasing consumer demands and promotes the economic growth and job-creating impacts of ubiquitous broadband. This action also continues the FCC’s efforts to update and streamline regulatory requirements across the agency.

Although some airlines have been able to provide in-flight broadband service, the approval process established by the FCC was arduous and lengthy. Technically, broadband service is made available on flights in the same manner it is provided on the ground. However, rather than a cable modem or router the equipment required is called an Earth Station Aboard Aircraft (ESAA)communicating with Fixed-Satellite Service(FSS)geostationary-orbit(GSO)space stations. The FCC release explains how the devices and technology provide broadband service on airplanes:

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Since 2001, the Commission has authorized a number of companies, on an ad hoc basis, to operate Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAA), i.e., earth stations on aircraft communicating with Fixed-Satellite Service (FSS) geostationary-orbit (GSO) space stations. Installed on the exterior of the aircraft, the satellite antenna carries the signal to and from the aircraft, providing two-way, in-flight broadband services to passengers and flight crews.

The Report and Order 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 hoc basis, airlines will be able test systems that meet FCC standards, establish that they do not interfere with aircraft systems, and get FAA approval.

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According to the FCC:

"By reducing administrative burdens on both applicants and the Commission, the new rules should allow the Commission to process ESAA applications up to 50 percent faster, enhancing competition in an important sector of the mobile telecommunications market in the United States and promoting the widespread availability of Internet access to aircraft passengers."

The new rules were announced a few weeks after the FCC Chairman announced the FCC's support for threw his agency's support for expanded use of portable electronic devices on flights. In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Genachowski said the FAA should "enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices."

Julius Genachowski's Assessment of US Leadership in Broadband. FCC Chairman: Broadband Goals Advanced, but Challenges Remain

the According to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski:

"Whether traveling for work or leisure, Americans increasingly expect broadband access everywhere they go. These new rules will help airlines and broadband providers offer highspeed 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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