Regulating the Internet in the skies

If you’ve been following technology in the airline sector for the past few months, you’ve probably heard that a number of airlines are getting ready to integrate wireless internet into their fleets. Earlier this month, Jetblue launched service (albeit limited) in one of their jets, and Virgin America, American Airlines and others have similar plans for the first quarters of next year.

With added flexibility in the skies, however, comes a higher probability of abuse. Earlier in a discussion about cell phone usage in the sky I pointed out that with wireless internet will come the ability to Skype and VOIP from above. In such close confines, both internet phone calls and browsing create tons of privacy and etiquette issues. Is it possible for a businessperson to sit between two people and jabber about confidential company information at top volume? Sure. Is it ethical? Probably not. What about the kid looking at graphic internet content while sitting next to a family in the back of the plane?

To curb some of these issues, airlines are taking a variety of defensive steps. Some, like Qantas, are blocking questionable sites completely so that they can’t be visited from above. Others have chosen to let the populous govern itself, pointing out that they can’t control the magazines or books that people bring on the planes either. I like this idea a lot, but when I think about all of the numbskulls out there, I don’t think it will end up working. Maybe we’ll get lucky.

Me? I just want to check my gmail and get my reading done. I’m looking forward to the wifi, even if it is regulated.