FCC allows Internet use on airplanes

Skies to become much friendlier in the future

Sick of boring in-flight movies and music?

Handing out a holiday gift to the flying masses, the Federal Communications Commission voted Wednesday to allow wireless high-speed Internet service on airplanes, meaning passengers can entertain themselves with whatever.

The hitch: It probably won’t be a reality until 2006 and it’s bound to be pricey for the consumer. It also is estimated to cost airlines $100,000 to outfit each plane.

At the same meeting, the FCC also voted to look into the possibility of lifting the ban on using cell phones on airplanes.

“We are pushing the frontiers in order to bring the information age to all corners of the world,” FCC chair Michael Powell said. “We want it on the land, in the air and on the sea.”

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said the prospect of having access to the Internet while flying is the “stuff of Buck Rogers, but we already are seeing the deployment of satellite-based high-speed Internet services on international long-distance routes.”

At the same time, Adelstein and fellow Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps said they were concerned that Wednesday’s order could create a monopoly in allowing one company to lock up the licenses for the air-to-ground service.

Powell disputed such a suggestion, saying in fact that the order specifically would prohibit one company from winning all the licenses. He said Verizon is the only company left that provides phones on the back of plane seats, and that this situation must be reversed.

While the Federal Aviation Administration has no problem allowing high-speed Internet service on planes, it has yet to rule on whether the cell phone ban should be eased.

FAA has commissioned a study to determine to what degree cell phones do indeed interfere with navigational systems.

(Wires contributed to this report.)

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