In-Flight, Online

Web surfing may soon become as common as boredom on airline flights.

JetBlue Airways and AirCell, a Colorado-based technology firm, are betting
on it after the two won air-to-ground spectrum licenses in an auction
concluded Friday by the Federal Commissions Commission (FCC).

After almost a month of bidding in the auction, JetBlue won 1 MHz of
spectrum for $7 million while AirCell of Louisville, Colo., took home 3 MHz
for $31.3 million.

The deals are still subject to final FCC approval.

Verizon’s Airfone currently operates in the spectrum offering air-to-ground
telephone service. Airfone dropped out the bidding early and must vacate the
spectrum within two years.

JetBlue declined to comment on its winning bid, but AirCell issued a
statement Monday morning calling for commercial deployment by as early as
next year.

“AirCell has more patents and experience applying advanced wireless
technology in the airborne environment than any organization in the world,”
Jack Blumenstein, president and CEO of AirCell, said in the statement.

AirCell said its wireless broadband service will allow airline passengers to
use their laptops and PDAs in the same manner they use them on the ground.

Voice service, however, remains in doubt.

The FCC’s ban on the use of airborne wireless telephones, which is intended
to help prevent interference with terrestrial wireless systems, remains in

Two years ago, the FCC stirred up a minor controversy
when it proposed both broadband service and individual cell phone use on
U.S. commercial flights.

In addition, the FCC noted, the use of electronic equipment on airlines
remains subject to the Federal Aviation Administration’s and aircraft
operators’ rules and practices.

“As we move forward and complete the official licensing process, AirCell
will be accelerating its discussions with a number of airlines … for the
introduction of broadband services,” Blumenstein said.

According to Blumenstein, the AirCell network will initially cover the
continental U.S. with expansion plans to cover Canada, New Mexico and the

“Because the system will use commercially available technology and a direct
air-to-ground link, its installation and operating costs will be very
affordable, enabling U.S. airlines to safely provide the connectivity their
passengers are demanding,” AirCell said in its statement.

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