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Wi-Fi in the sky may get a speed boost thanks to the FCC

The FCC wants to sell more spectrum to in-flight Wi-Fi services, to make flying the friendly skies slightly less awful.

Stuttery YouTube videos begone! Frequent fliers may eventually get a reprieve from subpar in-flight Wi-Fi, if the government allocates more wireless spectrum for airplane-friendly services like Gogo.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed auctioning off the rights to an additional 500 MHz of spectrum for ground-to-air wireless services. More available spectrum would result in faster speeds and more reliable connections.

The move could create more competition, in turn driving prices down for in-flight Wi-Fi.

Many airlines now use Gogo for in-flight Wi-Fi. However, the service can be unreliable or slow, and it's even worse during promotional periods when many passengers are trying to get online for free.

Other airlines, such as JetBlue, have turned to satellite service, which promises faster speeds. But for major airlines like Delta and American, getting online in the air usually means using Gogo. By opening up more spectrum, the FCC could pave the way for competing ground-to-air services, or at least better service.

To prevent interference with essential services, the FCC is proposing secondary status for the new spectrum. That means existing commercial and federal uses, such as media, banking and retail, will get top priority.

But don't expect relief anytime soon. The New York Times reports that new service won't be available for at least a couple of years.

Impertinence in the air

In related news, a new study found that 30 percent of passengers have "accidentally" left their devices on during takeoff and landing, according to the Consumer Electronics Association the Airline Passenger Experience Association. A fifth of all flyers simply switch their devices to airplane mode, rather than powering down completely.

The FCC is one of several groups pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the use of personal electronics during takeoff and landing. But that effort is also slow-going. The FAA is reviewing its current policies but hasn't given a timeline for when it might change them.

Being at the whim of the government means these changes are going to take some time, but maybe in a year or two, we'll be able to keep using our gadgets just like we do at home--with fast connections and no interruptions.


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