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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In-Flight Internet Offerings

Charles Ogilvie, director of in-flight entertainment for Virgin America, demonstrates usage of a computer in the first-class seating section on a Virgin America plane. As airlines bring Internet access to the skies, they are having to grapple with questions of openness and free speech, including what to do when a passenger chatters endlessly on an Internet phone call or starts surfing porn sites.

Seat 17D is yapping endlessly on an Internet phone call. Seat 16F is flaming Seat 16D with expletive-laden chats. Seat 16E is too busy surfing porn sites to care. Seat 17C just wants to sleep.
AIRCELL - Delivering high-speed Internet services using a 3-megahertz frequency band licensed from the Federal Communications Commission for $31 million in 2006. Initial service over continental United States, with plans to expand to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Service on some flights of AMR Corp. (nyse: AMR - news - people )'s American Airlines and Virgin America to begin in 2008. Prices expected at about $10 a flight, though Virgin may offer cheaper, la carte services on seatback computers. Aircell LLC is based in Itasca, Ill.

LIVETV - Delivering e-mail and instant-messaging services only using a 1-megahertz frequency band licensed by the FCC for $7 million. Service over continental United States. LiveTV parent JetBlue Airways (nasdaq: JBLU - news - people ) Corp. launched free service on one aircraft on Dec. 11. LiveTV is based in Melbourne, Fla.

ROW 44 - Partnering with Hughes Communications (nasdaq: HUGH - news - people ) Inc.'s Hughes Network Systems to deliver high-speed Internet services via satellite. Global coverage planned. Scheduled to launch on an aircraft of Alaska Air Group Inc. (nyse: ALK - news - people )'s Alaska Airlines in spring 2008. Alaska hasn't set prices; free service for frequent fliers is possible. Row 44 Inc. has headquarters in Westlake Village, Calif.

PANASONIC AVIONICS - Partnering with Intelsat Ltd. for satellite-based, high-speed Internet services. Global coverage planned. GSM cellular phone offerings through AeroMobile Ltd. approved in Australia. Tested on Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd., with other, unnamed airlines expected in late 2008. Panasonic plans to charge about $12 an hour or $22 per 24-hour period. Panasonic Avionics Corp., part of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (nyse: MC - news - people ), is based in Lake Forest, Calif.

ONAIR - Leveraging standard GSM cellular phone technology to deliver voice, data and Internet services. Approved by European Aviation Safety Agency, with coverage elsewhere pending. No current plans to offer service in North America, where many cell networks use different technology. Following Dec. 17 launch on Air France (nyse: AKH - news - people ), OnAir plans to service European no-frills carrier Ryanair (nasdaq: RYAAY - news - people ) Ltd., British Midland Airways Ltd. and Portugal's TAP by mid-2008. Fees will vary and generally will be billed directly by passer's cell phone provider. OnAir is a joint venture between aircraft manufacturer Airbus and SITA, an information-technology company serving airlines. OnAir has headquarters in Geneva

Welcome to the promise of the Internet at 33,000 feet — and the questions of etiquette, openness and free speech that airlines and service providers will have to grapple with as they bring Internet access to the skies in the coming months.

"This gets into a ticklish area," said Vint Cerf, one of the Internet's chief inventors and generally a critic of network restrictions. "Airlines have to be sensitive to the fact that customers are (seated) close together and may be able to see each other's PC screens. More to the point, young people are often aboard the plane."

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