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Dear FAA, et al.: We passengers are fed up

An open letter calls for in-flight Internet access

July 13, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The commercial airline status quo is unacceptable, and we passengers demand immediate action.

More than 240 million of us fly on more than 875,000 U.S. air carrier flights per year and pay the airlines more than a quarter of a trillion dollars annually for airplane tickets.

We spend billions more on taxes, year after year, to fund the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission. We pay your salaries and pensions to ensure our flight safety (FAA) and to maximize the quality of electronic communications (FCC).

All of you are failing us. It's time for you to step up and do your jobs.

During our time in-flight, you airlines hold us as information prisoners and incommunicado for all in-flight time and for much of the time spent in airplanes on the ground. It's the sole remaining place (besides jury duty) where millions of busy people are unnecessarily forced to sever all communications ties.

You might ask why we need to be connected all the time, and why it's such a burden to unplug once in a while. Save your breath. The burden is on you to explain why in 2007 you force millions of your customers back to 1957 in terms of communications technology.

Many of us suspect that you airlines are motivated by pure greed. We know those 1970s-era VHS tapes that you force us to watch are packed with "infomercial" content bought and paid for by the companies and studios featured in the various segments. You've got a captive audience, and allowing Internet access might erode that lucrative business. But you're taking advantage of us. And we don't like it.

Providing low-cost Wi-Fi access in-flight is perfectly doable. In fact, an extremely good service was painstakingly rolled out, then later killed because of a lack of interest and support from the airlines and the government.

The Connexion by Boeing service provided high-speed, in-flight Wi-Fi access, even over the middle of the ocean. The European and Asian carriers installed and used it. But Boeing's business model was counting on acceptance and use by the U.S. carriers, and you airlines failed everyone. Complaining about the high cost (as much as a half-million dollars per airplane), not one American airline bought it, so Boeing closed down the public, consumer version on Dec. 31, 2006.

The branch of government that includes the FAA and FCC (the executive branch of the federal government) continues to enjoy for itself the exact same service offered by Boeing, all paid for by taxpayers. Even the president's jet, Air Force One, uses it.

So we're paying for Wi-Fi access already -- for government officials -- but are denied access to the system for our own use.

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