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FCC relaxes restrictions on airline Internet access

The Federal Communications Commission released a new set of rules today aimed at making it easier for airline carriers to offer their passengers in-flight Internet access — and I don’t think I’m alone when saying it’s about freakin’ time.

Of course, the FCC isn’t solely to blame for all the rigid and ridiculous restrictions placed on Internet access during a flight. The agency jointly regulates in-air communications along with the much more stodgy Federal Aviation Administration, which forces passengers to turn off all electronics before and slightly after a plane takes off.

“These new rules will help airlines and broadband providers offer high-speed Internet to passengers,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told Bloomberg in a statement. Genachowski said he’s been pushing the FAA to approve a revised set of rules regarding electronic usage during flights. For instance, one dire exception the FAA has yet to even acknowledge is being able to use devices like iPads and iPhones during take off if the passenger is using the “Airplane Mode” setting that blocks all Internet connectivity.

Previously, Airlines needed approval by the FCC to offer an in-flight Wi-Fi service, which was a long and slow process that permitted some airlines to offer stellar web services while others were woefully left out. Under the new rules, the FCC will offer airlines an opportunity to meet a set of standards that make sure the Internet service won’t interfere with the plane’s controls or communications while it’s in the air. These standards permit the passenger/consumer Internet access to work with an aircraft’s other communications systems to ensure problems don’t exist.

According to the FCC, the new access rules should lead to faster adoption and licensing of Internet services across all airlines and offer a path toward FAA approval of updated electronic usage regulation.

While I’m glad to hear that I’ll soon have more opportunities to pay $49.95 for unlimited blazing-fast Wi-Fi service on my 75-minute flight to the next airport, I won’t be fully satisfied until flight attendants stop acting like anti-gadget police during take off. Luckily, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) shares my frustration, and earlier this month threatened to introduce new legislation for in-flight electronic use if the FAA doesn’t act soon.

Airplane photo via Chalabala/Shutterstock


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