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In-Flight WiFi Taking Off


The FCC has just taken a first step towards dramatically upgrading in-flight WiFi available to travelers. On Thursday the commission proposed auctioning newly available airwaves to improve in-flight connections via air-to-ground systems. NYT:

The new format would use a more reliable system of contact between a plane and the ground, agency officials said, and should allow providers to offer more consistent service that is some 30 times faster than the service that many Americans have in their homes.

Although it will be at least a couple of years before the new service is available, federal officials and people in the broadband business expressed excitement that the new format could free airline passengers from being captive to the expensive and rather slow Wi-Fi that is currently available on only some domestic flights.

This development is interesting in light of all the hand-wringing that went in the early 2000s about the “digital divide” and the need for vigorous government action to spread internet access more widely throughout society. President Clinton even pushed federal subsidies to help close the purported divide. 

Since then, however, we’ve seen an explosion in the use and availability of digital devices and internet technologies. Whatever divide there was is much smaller now. For example, a Pew study this year found that rates of internet and smartphone use among Latinos is much higher than it was even a couple of years ago. And now better, faster internet is coming to airplanes and trains. What’s more, all this has happened without massive government intervention, by the force of consumer demand.

The quality of life of an average American continues to increase.

[Airplane WiFi image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Steven Walser

    I’ve got to thank you for raising my consciousness. I never knew I was being held captive all those years, by these unknown groups or persons. Previously when I flew many hundreds of thousands of miles without any internet access or phone service and considered this time a welcome respite I was, apparently, too blinded by my bourgeois preference to realize how deprived I was of the “benefits” of being constantly wired.
    Thanks for opening my eyes to another, previously unknown, issue!

    The world certainly continues to amaze.

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