The FCC wants to make in-flight Wi-Fi less awful

May 9, 2013: 5:02 PM ET
in flight wifi proposal
In-flight Wi-Fi is terrible, but the FCC has a plan to make it faster.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

If you hate paying $15 for Wi-Fi on your flight, only to have it move at the approximate speed of a sloth, the FCC has good news: It wants to speed up your internet above the clouds.

The proposal calls for freeing up 500 megahertz of airwaves for air-to-ground broadband. 500 MHz is a very wide swath of spectrum. By comparison, Gogo's current in-flight Wi-Fi service utilizes just 3 MHz to connect to a 3G data service and split that slow connection over Wi-Fi to hundreds of passengers.

"This service would help meet consumer demand by offering airline passengers access to better in-flight broadband and will increase competitive pressure on current systems to improve the quality of their in-flight services," said Julius Genachowski, the Federal Communications Commission's outgoing chairman, in a statement.

Not surprisingly, the proposal has the full backing of Qualcomm (QCOM), developed most of the in-flight Wi-Fi technology currently in-use. The telecom giant has been advocating for the freeing up of more spectrum for years.

"The FCC's proposal for a next generation air-to -ground broadband service ... would greatly expand in-flight high speed broadband connectivity for airline passengers," said Dean Brenner, Qualcomm's senior vice president of government affairs, in a statement.

If all goes to plan, the FCC wants to award the 500 megahertz of spectrum to one or two companies via a license auction.

But it might hit a snag: Currently, that spectrum is being used for satellite communications. The new proposal wouldn't squeeze satellite uplinks off the frequency, but rather, it would sniff out inactive spectrum blocks and allocate them to air-ground mobile broadband service. Yet the Satellite Industry Association alleges the FCC's plan would degrade service and will result in revenue losses of $1 billion for its companies.


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