FCC Eases Licensing Requirements To Foster Broadband Access on Flights

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Federal Communications Commission, in a Report and Order and NPRM [FCC 12-161], approved new rules Dec. 28 to ease its licensing requirements for in-flight broadband internet services.

The FCC, which shares regulation of in-flight communications with the Federal Aviation Administration, had previously authorized companies to offer such services only on an ad hoc basis. The new rules will now formalize what is known as Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft as a licensed application of fixed-satellite service, which will allow the commission to process applications “up to 50 percent faster” and enhance competition “in an important sector of the mobile telecommunications market in the United States … promoting the widespread availability of Internet access to aircraft passengers.”

The FCC explained that advancing technology has made it possible for mobile platforms to ensure antenna pointing accuracy sufficient to keep an earth station antenna focused on a satellite, while maintaining communications and preventing interference with adjacent satellites.

There are currently two mobile applications in the fixed-satellite service: earth stations on board aircraft vessels, and vehicle-mounted earth stations, which provide satellite communications with air vessels and land vehicles respectively. Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft is the so-called third leg. By means of satellite antennas mounted on the exterior of aircraft, satellites will be able to communicate with mobile devices used by passengers and crew of those aircraft, the FCC said. The satellite antenna will carry the signal to and from the aircraft, and mobile technologies such as Wi-Fi will provide communications within the aircraft's hull.

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