Prepare yourself for the fact that for the forseeable future airplane wifi will continue to cost an arm and leg, all while not working that well and cutting in and out every time the plane goes through a bit of a rough spot in the clouds. The FCC has rejected a proposed rule change that could have led the way towards mobile connectivity up in the air, originally proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2013. Wheeler resigned in January 2017 after Trump’s inauguration, leaving the decision to new Chairman Ajit Pai. In a statement, Pai explained,
“I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest. Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet.”
As it is now, the FCC blocks cell phone usage and service in the air to avoid the risk of interference with wireless networks that are communicating from the ground. Importantly, should this law have gone through it would have simply given airlines the option to add technological equipment to planes, not made that mandatory or cell service immediately available to passengers. So even if Pai didn’t vote against the idea, which basically kills any possible legislation for multiple years, cell companies may have ended up charging customers roaming or international fees for the privilege of browsing while flying. There’s too much money to be made nickel and dime-ing passengers to keep them connected to their phones, so offering new pathways to cell service access is also offering companies new pathways to pad their pockets.
In any case, the much-maligned Gogo or airline-sponsored wifi routers are what everyone remains stuck with after this. No spending your flight catching up with mom and dad on the phone, at least not yet.