The FCC awarded 800-MHz Air-Ground radiotelephone licenses to two airborne communications companies last week, a move that may make broadband Internet available to plane passengers in flight. AC BidCo, LLC, a subsidiary of Louisville, Colo.-based airborne communications company AirCell, won 3 MHz of the spectrum with a bid of $31,319,000. Additionally, LiveTV LLC, a subsidiary of JetBlue, won 1 MHz of the spectrum with a bid of $7,020,000.
The auction, which commenced on March 10, closed on June 2 after 143 rounds of bidding. Nine bidders, including Acadia Broadband, L.P., AMTS Consortium LLC, Intelligent Transportation & Monitoring Wireless, Space Data Spectrum Holdings, Unison Spectrum, and Verizon Airfone, participated in the auction.
The five licenses auctioned were available in three alternative band configurations. Band Plan 1 comprised two overlapping, shared, cross-polarized 3-MHz licenses; Band Plan 2 comprised an exclusive 3-MHz license and an exclusive 1-MHz license; and Band Plan 3 comprised an exclusive 1-MHz license and an exclusive 3-MHz license.
The awarded licenses are in Band Plan 2. AC BidCo’s license is located in the lower 1.5-MHz portion of each 2-MHz band (1.5 MHz at 849.0-850.5 MHz paired with 1.5 MHz at 894.0-895.5 MHz). The spectrum consists of an uplink band at 849-851 MHz and a downlink band at 894-896 MHz. LiveTV’s license is located in the upper 0.5-MHz portion of each 2-MHz band (0.5 MHz at 850.5-851.0 MHz paired with 0.5 MHz at 895.5-896.0 MHz).
One bidder, Verizon Airfone, already has a nonrenewable license in the band, which will expire in 2010. The company must cease operations in the lower 1.5-MHz portion of each air-ground band within two years, but may relocate its incumbent operations to the upper 0.5 MHz portion of each 2-MHz band (0.5 MHz at 850.5-851.0 MHz paired with 0.5 MHz at 895.5-896.0 MHz) until the end of the contract.
The 4 MHz of Air-Ground spectrum in the 800-MHz band can be used to provide a range of communications services to passengers on commercial, government, and other aircraft, including broadband Internet access. The FCC was quick to note, however, that the auction does not affect the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aircraft operators’ rules and policies restricting the use of personal electronic devices and wireless telephones on aircrafts.