FCC to Auction In-flight Broadband Airwaves

FCC to Auction In-flight Broadband Airwaves


Airline passengers will soon be able to surf the Net under an agreement announced this week by the FCC. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will, beginning May 10, auction airwaves now used by in-flight phones.

These phones are owned are operated by Verizon Communications and operate wirelessly on low frequencies, so as to not interfere with airplane operations. Verizon owns the phones and will certainly be involved. The phones are not used now because of what many passengers to be the prohibitive cost of use. A Verizon victory would give the company a boost in what is now widely viewed as a losing venture.

“We’re certainly planning on being successful at the auction,” Bill Pallone, president of Verizon Airfone, said recently.

But Verizon is not the only telecommunications company aiming to enter what would be a new market. Cingular Wireless, the largest American wireless carrier, will not confirm or deny whether it would bid on such a service; industry experts think that a Cingular bid is inevitable. The FCC has used the magic word broadband to describe the Internet service that will be auctioned off, and industry experts think that that will encourage other carriers to enter the fray when auctioning gets under way.

The FCC has proposed setting US$5 million as the minimum price for carriers wishing to join the auction.

Such in-flight service is already available on Boeing flights run by Lufthansa of Germany and El Al of Israel. That service ranges from US$9.95 an hour to US$26.95 for a 24-hour pass.