InterNet access in the sky

Would someone please explain to me why airplanes operated by European carriers seem to be able to offer wireless 'Net access on their transatlantic flights, but airplanes operated by American carriers don't? I'd Google it myself and see if I could turn up anything, but see, here's the problem: I'm typing this while on a United Airlines flight from Munich to Washington DC, I'm somewhere over Europe (as evidenced both by the picture on the absurdly tiny screen built into the seat in front of me, and by looking out of the window and seeing land and not water far below), and I have no 'Net access. This time four days ago, flying on a SAS flight? 'Net access.

Since I can't ask the InterNet why I can't connect to it at the moment, let's try a little eliminative inference. Obviously I can't connect to the 'Net because there is no access provided on board the flight, so the question is about the differential capacity of US and European flights. What might explain this difference?

1) it could be different aircraft. Maybe there's some technical reason why wi-fi interferes with the systems of, say, Boeing airplanes but not Airbus airplanes. Perhaps -- the plane that brought me to Europe this time was an Airbus 330, while this plane that I'm on now is a Boeing 767. But this seems unlikely; my understanding is that wi-fi specifications have been designed so as to not interfere with other elements of the radio spectrum. It's also unlikely because the ISP I was able to use on the eastbound flight was Connexion by Boeing, and it would be very odd indeed if Boeing were providing a service that was technically incompatible with their own aircraft.

2) it could be cultural -- maybe Europeans like connectivity more than Americans do, and so it's not worth it to install the equipment on American planes. This strikes me as unlikely as well, since the Connexion service is marketed to business-travelers, and who is more obsessive about keeping up with their business than Americans?

3) it could be absurd security considerations. Now we may be getting someplace. When they did the usual set of announcements before we took off -- right after the requisite information about what to do in the unlikely event of a water landing; you know the drill (and could probably recite it from memory if pressed) -- they introduced something I'd never heard before. The usual litany began: turn off cel phones and leave them off for the remainder of the flight, list of approved electronic devices is in the in-flight magazine, yada yada yada…and then a set of restrictions that were framed as "security issues":

a) stay in your own cabin.
b) only use the lavatories in your own cabin.
c) don't congregate in the aisles or near the lavatories.
d) don't use wi-fi to connect any computers together, or to connect any portable electronic device to a computer.

That last one got my attention; I think I've heard the "no congregating" stuff before, and the "stay in your own service class" was also familiar. But come on: wi-fi as a security threat? A threat to what? Here, let me use my wi-fi enabled computer to beam secret messages into your airplane and force it to do my bidding? Or: let me use my nefarious wi-fi connectability to brainwash everyone on the plane into helping me commit criminal acts? Please.

It seems to me that if airplane navigation systems are so sensitive to the minute amount of signal-power generated by wi-fi cards and cel phones, the only workable solution is to change those systems. I mean, what if someone forgets to turn off their cel phone before the plane takes off? What if someone's wireless card is active during the flight, even if there's no network to connect to?

This is all exceptionally silly. I suspect that the real answer is something like

4) ISPs are fighting before the FCC hoping to obtain a monopoly on the relevant part of the wireless spectrum, and no one is going to offer airborne wireless until they get such a monopoly. Or something along those lines. Give me a few minutes with a 'Net connection and I could find out . . .

. . . but as I said, I'm typing this 30,000 feet over Europe, on a flight operated by an American carrier, and I have no 'Net access. Sigh. Oh well -- at least the flight wasn't full so I was able to get a row to myself.

[Ironically, of course, I can only post this once I have 'Net access again, at which point I might look up the answer myself -- if I remember to do it then.]

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