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Coming soon to an airplane near you: Fast Internet connections and low-cost phone service. That's right, there's a good chance you won't have to watch that terrible movie starring Queen Latifah on your next cross-country flight. Instead, you'll be able to surf the web using broadband—or even make use of those silly expensive phones always stashed on the seat in front of you. How is this possible, you may ask? Because beginning May 10th, US regulators are planning to auction off the airwaves now used by those stupid airplane phones (now operated by a Verizon Communications unit) for wireless broadband and other data services. Verizon is actually planning to bid in the sale, along with what I imagine is every other service provider. The FCC is throwing out a $5 million figure as the minimum of what the auction would have to bring in to be completed—and with the amount of cash these guys pull from us every month, I can't imagine that will be too hard to do.

The FCC set up scenarios for splitting the airwaves and will go with whichever one receives the highest bids. The possibilities include two overlapping licenses for 3 megahertz (Mhz) of airwaves, or one 3 Mhz exclusive license and another 1 Mhz exclusive license.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, expressed concern in 2004 that the way the agency has set up the licenses could lead to a single provider, a monopoly that could prey on consumers.

Under the FCC's rules, Verizon has a nonrenewable five-year license to operate its current airborne service, and after the auction is completed, the company would be limited to using 1 MHz of the airwaves.

Here's to hoping they can cut a deal without screwing us too bad.

FCC sets airwaves sale for Internet on planes [Reuters]