FCC eases licensing for in-flight Internet gear on aircraft

The agency has set up a routine approval process for systems that connect planes to the Internet via satellite

The FCC is making it easier to launch in-flight Internet services on planes in the U.S. by setting up a standard approval process for onboard systems that use satellites.

Since 2001, the Federal Communications Commission has approved some satellite based Internet systems for airplanes, called Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAA), on an ad-hoc basis. On Friday, the agency said it had formalized ESAA as a licensed application, which should cut in half the time required to get services approved, according to the FCC.

In-flight Internet access is typically delivered via Wi-Fi in an airplane's cabin, but that access requires a wireless link outside the plane to the larger Internet. Some services make that link via special 3G cellular towers on the ground, while others exchange their data over satellites. Row44, a provider of satellite-based in-flight Wi-Fi, names Southwest Airlines and Allegiant Air as customers on its website.

Under the new rules, all it will take for airlines to implement onboard ESAA systems is to test the technology, establish that it meets FCC standards and doesn't interfere with any aircraft systems, and get Federal Aviation Administration approval, the FCC said. The result should be quicker deployments and more competition among in-flight Internet systems, according to the agency.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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