Southwest calls on FCC to approve Row 44's in-flight Internet

By Mary Kirby

Just days after launching a commercial trial of Row 44's in-flight Internet service, Southwest Airlines has added its voice to the growing chorus of opinion concerning the firm's request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for authority to operate an aeronautical mobile-satellite service (AMSS) in the conventional Ku-band segment.

In a letter to the FCC, a law firm representing Southwest urges the regulator to "expeditiously grant Row 44's pending application" to operate AMSS transmit/receive earth terminals aboard commercial and private aircraft.

"Following a grant of this application, Southwest plans to use Row 44's technology to provide Southwest's customers with real-time, in-flight access to the Internet at download speeds comparable to home or office broadband connections," says Southwest.

"With this high-quality, high-speed broadband service, Southwest passengers, using their own laptops and handheld devices, will have access to a new realm of in-flight information and entertainment."

ViaSat and other potential Row 44 competitors, including JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV, have highlighted concerns that the system could cause interference of satellite communications.

Row 44 disputes these claims. Southwest this week began commercial trials of Row 44's Ku-band-based system in conjunction with the California-based firm and its partner, Hughes Network Systems.

"The testing is being conducted pursuant to a grant of modified experimental authority issued to a Hughes subsidiary on 5 February 2009 by the commission's office of engineering and technology," reveals the airline.

Southwest has equipped one Boeing 737 with this aircraft-to-satellite technology, and says it is set to equip three more aircraft by early March.

All passengers participating in this testing are being informed that, at this time, the in-flight connectivity service is being provided for experimental purposes only and that it "can be cancelled at any time", adds Southwest.

Row 44 could not be reached for comment.

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