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FCC paves the way for better in-flight broadband

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The new rules will streamline the process by which companies apply for permission to offer in-flight Internet, says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. The approval process will be standardized, allowing the FCC to process license applications about 50 percent faster, and administrative burdens on companies seeking license will be reduced.

"This will enable providers to bring broadband to planes more efficiently, helping passengers connect with friends, family, or the office," Genachowski says in a statment.

The FCC has already authorized a number of companies to provide in-flight Internet service, but the process has been "ad hoc" up until now. In-flight broadband relies on a technology called Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAA), which carries two-way broadband signals between geo-stationary satellites and an antenna mounted on the aircraft. The new rules establish a framework for any company to use ESAA, provided that their systems don't interfere with aircraft communications and that they meet with approval from the FCC and the Federal Aviation Administration, which operates the country's air traffic control system.

Interestingly, the FCC's new rules don't mean that passengers will be able to use electronics throughout flights. The longstanding ban on using cell phones in-flight still stands, as does a ban on using laptops and other electronics during takeoff and landing. The government says those rules are in place because of concerns about interference with ground communications. But Genachowski also asked the FAA earlier this month to relax the rules on aircraft -- so perhaps you'll soon be able to stay connected from takeoff 'til landing.

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