FCC gives co-primary status to “Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft” uplinks.

The FCC has given in-flight Internet an upgrade.

Late in 2012, the FCC authorized use of earth stations installed on aircraft to communicate with Fixed-Satellite Service (FSS) spacecraft in geostationary orbits. Called “Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft” (ESAA), the service delivers wholesale Internet service to the airplane, where it gets parceled out to individual passengers via Wi-Fi.

Uplinks from the aircraft use the 14.0-14.5 GHz band, shared with (among others) the small VSAT terminals we often see on the roofs of gas stations and chain hotels. The FCC tentatively assigned ESAA secondary status, meaning that ESAA would have to (a) protect the VSATs and other primary users from interference, and (b) accept any interference from them. But the FCC stopped short of etching that decision in stone: a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking attached to the order asked whether the FCC should elevate ESAA to co-primary status.

The FCC has now made its decision: ESAA is co-primary. Other co-primary users and ESAA must all protect one other on equal terms.

The new order also makes a few adjustments in response to a petition for reconsideration. The rules will apply not only to aircraft operating within the United States, but also to U.S.-flagged aircraft anywhere in the world. The FCC clarified a technical provision requiring automatic shut-off if certain things go wrong, and one about the reliability of the mechanism that points the antenna at the satellite. The new rules wlll take effect 30 days after they get published in the Federal Register; check back here for updates.

Sure, these details are dull. But they make it possible to lean back at 35,000 feet and watch silly cat videos.