The in-flight Internet boom was supposed to have occurred a decade ago.In 2000, Boeing launched a business called Connexion by Boeing to bring high-speed Internet access to the nation’s jetliners. Boeing eventually partnered with a number of airlines, but the timing — spring of 2001 — couldn’t have been worse. The terrorists’ attacks of 9/11 caused every airline to pull out of the venture except for Germany’s Lufthansa. At the same time, there were major technical hurdles in deploying the service; each plane had to be outfitted with antennas that cost about a half a million dollars, took several days to install and created an estimated 800 pounds of drag. In 2006, Connexion called it quits.
But something else happened that year that was critical in ushering in the high-altitude Wi-Fi movement. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned off blocks of a spectrum previously reserved for analog radiotelephony so that it could be repurposed for digital air-to-ground bandwidth. Remember those seatback Verizon AirFones? They cost a fortune, and few people ever used them. So the FCC put the spectrum they used on the block.