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Review of Rules for Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft NPRM

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Released: December 13, 2013

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

Before the

Federal Communications Commission

Washington, D.C. 20554

In the Matter of
)
Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services
)
WT Docket No. 13-301
Onboard Aircraft
)

NOTICE O

F

PROPOSED RULEMAKING

Adopted: December 12, 2013

Released: December 13, 2013

Comment Date: (30 days after date of publication in the Federal Register)
Reply Comment Date: (60 days after date of publication in the Federal Register)

By the Commission: Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn issuing separate statements;
Commissioner Rosenworcel concurring and issuing a statement; Commissioners Pai
and O’Rielly dissenting and issuing separate statements.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Heading
Paragraph #
I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY................................................................................................... 1
II. BACKGROUND.................................................................................................................................... 5
A. FCC Regulations Limiting Airborne Mobile Use............................................................................ 5
B. 2004 Airborne Mobile NPRM ......................................................................................................... 8
C. International Developments........................................................................................................... 11
D. Current FCC Authorization of Airborne Broadband Access ......................................................... 16
E. Other Federal Government Actions ............................................................................................... 20
III. DISCUSSION ...................................................................................................................................... 22
A. Changes to Current Rules Restricting Airborne Mobile Broadband Use ...................................... 27
B. Airborne Access Systems .............................................................................................................. 29
1. Potential Harmful Interference from Uncontrolled Airborne Mobile Devices ....................... 29
2. Benefits of Airborne Access Systems ..................................................................................... 30
3. Technical Requirements .......................................................................................................... 32
a. Mobile Device................................................................................................................... 34
b. Aircraft Picocell................................................................................................................ 36
c. Network Control Unit ....................................................................................................... 37
C. Airborne Commercial Mobile Use................................................................................................. 42
1
Part 87 Authorization Methodology........................................................................................ 43
a. Part 87 Aircraft License Modification .............................................................................. 43
b. Alternative Authorization Methods .................................................................................. 48
2. Scope of the Authorization...................................................................................................... 54
3. Other Authorization and Licensing Issues .............................................................................. 57

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4. Applicability to Non-U.S.-Registered Aircraft Operating in U.S. Airspace ........................... 64
D. Other issues.................................................................................................................................... 70
1. Service below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) ............................................................................... 70
2. Voice Service Onboard Aircraft.............................................................................................. 72
3. Agreements with Canada and Mexico..................................................................................... 74
4. Law Enforcement and Public Safety ....................................................................................... 75
IV. CONCLUSION .................................................................................................................................... 78
V. PROCEDURAL MATTERS................................................................................................................ 79
A. Filing Requirements....................................................................................................................... 79
B. Ex Parte Rules ............................................................................................................................... 81
C. Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis........................................................................................... 82
D. Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995................................................................................................. 83
VI. ORDERING CLAUSES....................................................................................................................... 84
APPENDICES
APPENDIX A - Proposed Rules
APPENDIX B - Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

I.

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

1.
By this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice), we propose to revise outdated rules and
adopt consistent new rules governing mobile communications services aboard airborne aircraft. These
rule changes would give airlines, subject to applicable Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and
Department of Transportation (DoT) rules, the choice of whether to enable mobile communications
services using an Airborne Access System and, if so, which specific services to enable. The draft rules
would also replace an existing patchwork of regulatory prohibitions on airborne use of mobile services in
some, but not all, of the heavily used mobile bands with a consistent regulatory framework that explicitly
forbids airborne use of mobile services in those bands unless they are operating on an aircraft equipped
with an Airborne Access System. If adopted, the rule changes would reduce consumer confusion,
increase protection against harmful interference, improve administrative efficiency, and facilitate
expanded access to broadband services in flight. Additionally, while many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi
broadband services, the proposals in this Notice would give airlines the option to allow consumers to
access broadband services when airborne through their existing wireless service providers, just as they
would on the ground. The Notice does not propose to mandate that airlines permit any new airborne
mobile services. It does, however, provide a path for interested airlines to authorize increased consumer
access to airborne mobile broadband services across licensed commercial mobile spectrum bands in a
safe, non-interfering manner.
2.
In recent years, air carriers have been enhancing their in-flight communications service
offerings to meet the increasing consumer demand for broadband connectivity on aircraft. One study
predicts that the number of aircraft offering wireless connectivity will reach 4,048 by the end of 2013
(representing 21 percent of the global fleet), and will rise to 14,000 by 2022 (a 50 percent connectivity
penetration in commercial aircraft).1 This study also projects that approximately 5,000 of these aircraft
will offer both Wi-Fi and cellular options.2 According to one survey of adult airline passengers, 69
percent of airline passengers that brought a portable electronic device (PED) – such as a tablet or

1 News Release, IHS, In-Flight Wireless Installations Take Off; Change in FAA Rules Gives Airlines Opportunity to
Promote Services (Nov. 1, 2013), http://press.ihs.com/press-release/design-supply-chain-media/flight-wireless-
installations-take-change-faa-rules-gives-ai. This penetration of wireless is up from 15 percent in 2012 and 12
percent in 2011. Id.
2 Id.
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smartphone – onto an aircraft in the past 12 months reported that they used their devices during flight.3
The report did not distinguish between transmitting PEDs and non-transmitting PEDs. Also, notably, in
October 2013, the FAA announced that, after performing recommended assessments and tests, airlines
could safely expand passenger use of PEDs during all phases of flight.4
3.
Internationally, more than forty jurisdictions, including the European Union (EU), Asia,
and Australia, have authorized the use of mobile communications services on aircraft. To the best of our
knowledge, these services have successfully operated without causing harmful interference to terrestrial
commercial wireless networks.5 Given the rapidly expanding demand for mobile broadband services, our
recent efforts to improve consumers’ access to broadband services on aircraft,6 and the successful
deployment of mobile communications services on aircraft in numerous other countries, we find that it is
in the public interest to bring the benefits of mobile communications services on aircraft to domestic
consumers. Specifically, we propose to:
(1) Remove existing, narrow restrictions on airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz
cellular and Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) bands, replacing them with a more
comprehensive framework encompassing access to mobile communications services in all
mobile wireless bands;7
(2) Harmonize regulations governing the operation of mobile devices on airborne aircraft
across all commercial mobile spectrum bands;8
(3) Add the authority to provide mobile communications services on airborne aircraft across all

3 Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Portable
Electronic Devices on Aircraft, at 4, 7 (2013), available at: Appendix H of A Report from the Portable Electronics
Devices Aviation Rulemaking Committee to the Federal Aviation Administration, Recommendations on Expending
the Use of Portable Electronic Devices During Flight, available at:
http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/ped/media/PED_ARC_FINAL_REPORT.pdf (APEX/CEA Report). See also
Press Release, APEX, APEX/CEA Study Reveals Importance, Use of Devices In-Flight (May 9, 2013),
http://apex.aero/News/PressRelease/Details/tabid/466/ArticleId/22/APEX-CEA-study-reveals-importance-use-of-
devices-in-flight.aspx; Press Release, CEA, Most U.S. Flyers Brought Portable Electronic Devices on Planes in the
Last Year, Nearly 30 Percent Accidently Left Them Turned On (May 9, 2013), http://www.ce.org/News/News-
Releases/Press-Releases/2013-Press-Releases/Most-U-S-Flyers-Brought-Portable-Electronic-Device.aspx.
4 See Press Release, FAA, FAA to Allow Airlines to Expand Use of Personal Electronics (Oct. 31, 2013),
http://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=15254 (FAA PED Press Release); See also A
Report from the Portable Electronics Devices Aviation Rulemaking Committee to the Federal Aviation
Administration, Recommendations on Expending the Use of Portable Electronic Devices During Flight, at ix (Sept.
30, 2013), available at: http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/ped/media/PED_ARC_FINAL_REPORT.pdf (ARC
Report).
5 Throughout the Notice we refer to networks primarily providing ground-based network services as “terrestrial”
networks or licensees. This colloquial usage is not intended to invoke technical meanings of the term “terrestrial”
that may be familiar in other regulatory (e.g., FCC or International Telecommunication Union (ITU)) contexts.
6 See infra Section II.D.
7 See 47 C.F.R. §§ 22.925 and 90.423.
8 For purposes of this Notice, “commercial mobile spectrum bands” include: (1) the 800 MHz cellular band (824-
849 and 869-894 MHz); (2) SMR spectrum within the bands (806-821 and 851-866 MHz and 896-901 and 935-940
MHz); (3) the Broadband Personal Communications Service (PCS) band (1850-1915 and 1930-1995 MHz); (4) 700
MHz band (698-757 and 775-787 MHz); (5) the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) band (1710-1755 and 2110-
2155 MHz); (6) the Wireless Communications Service (WCS) band (2305-2320 and 2345-2360 MHz); and AWS-4
(2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz). We would expect to add other spectrum bands if and when they are
allocated for commercial mobile broadband use.
3

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commercial mobile spectrum bands to existing Part 87 aircraft station licenses;9
(4) Allow mobile communications services on airborne aircraft only if managed by an Airborne
Access System certified by the FAA, which would control the emissions of onboard PEDs
by requiring them to remain at or near their lowest transmitting power level;10
(5) Limit authorization for mobile communications services to aircraft travelling at altitudes of
more than 3,048 meters (approximately 10,000 feet) above the ground;
(6) We also seek comment on alternative authorization frameworks, the potential impact of
these proposals on public safety and national security, and issues related to the use of voice
services onboard aircraft.
4.
Consistent with our continued efforts to increase consumer access to broadband and the
FAA’s recent actions, this proposal would provide airlines with the technological tools to offer additional
in-cabin communications services to their passengers at their discretion. Our proposal is focused on data
services, but it is technology-neutral; we do not propose to limit the use of mobile communications
services on airborne aircraft to non-voice applications. Deployment of such services, including etiquette
and other rules, would be at the discretion of individual airlines, within the context of any rules or
guidelines established by the FAA or DoT.11

II.

BACKGROUND

A.

FCC Regulations Limiting Airborne Mobile Use

5.
Commission rules governing the use of airborne mobile devices vary significantly among
services. Specifically, airborne use of the 800 MHz cellular band is prohibited and airborne use of the
800 MHz SMR band is prohibited on aircraft that typically fly at altitudes over one mile.12 There are no
such restrictions on airborne use of the AWS, PCS, WCS, 700 MHz, or AWS-4 bands.13 As noted above
resolving these inconsistencies is one of the primary goals of this proceeding.
6.
Part 22 of the Commission’s rules prohibits the airborne use of 800 MHz cellular
telephones, including the use of such phones on commercial and private aircraft.14 This prohibition was
adopted in 1991 to guard against the threat of harmful interference from airborne use of cellular phones to
terrestrial cellular networks.15 The Commission’s prohibition was not to ensure interference-free

9 See 47 C.F.R. § 87.18.
10 A description of the components and capabilities of the most common type of Airborne Access System in use can
be found in Section III.B.2 infra.
11 The FAA has oversight of all aspects of U.S. civil aviation, with responsibilities that include ensuring civil
aviation safety. The DoT has oversight over aviation consumer protection issues.
12 See 47 C.F.R. §§ 22.925 and 90.423.
13 Wi-Fi on aircraft, as anywhere, uses unlicensed spectrum and therefore has no such restrictions.
14 See 47 C.F.R. § 22.925 (“Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of
aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves
the ground, all cellular telephones onboard that aircraft must be turned off.”).
15 Amendment of Sections of Part 22 of the Commission’s Rules in the Matter of Airborne Use of Cellular
Telephones and the Use of Cell Enhancers in the Domestic Public Cellular Radio Service, Report and Order, CC
Docket No. 88–411, 7 FCC Rcd 23 (1991) (Airborne Use of Cellular Telephones Report and Order). An exception
to section 22.925’s strict prohibition against airborne cellular use was made when AirCell, Inc. demonstrated that its
equipment would not cause harmful interference to terrestrial cellular systems. See AirCell, Inc. Petition, Pursuant
to Section 7 of the Act, For a Waiver of the Airborne Cellular Rule, or in the Alternative, For a Declaratory Ruling,
Order, 14 FCC Rcd 806 (1998), recon. granted in part, denied in part, Order on Reconsideration, 14 FCC Rcd
18430 (1999), app. for rev. denied, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 15 FCC Rcd 9622 (2000), pet. for rev.
granted in part, denied in part sub nom; AT&T Wireless Svcs., Inc. v. FCC, 270 F.3d 959 (D.C. Cir. 2001), pet. for
(continued….)
4

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operation of avionics equipment. When the prohibition was adopted, the Commission noted that a
cellular telephone used onboard an airborne aircraft would have greater range than a land-based handset,
and its signal would be received by multiple terrestrial cell sites in a given market, causing harmful
interference.16 Moreover, the Commission found that because a cellular telephone can transmit on all
assigned 800 MHz cellular frequencies, a single handset could interfere with cellular systems in multiple
cellular market areas simultaneously.17 Thus, the Commission concluded that “the need for
noninterference in all cellular transmissions outweighs the benefits that would be realized by allowing the
public to use cellular service in airborne aircraft.”18
7.
Similarly, the Part 90 rules restrict the use of SMR handsets while airborne in certain
circumstances.19 The altitude restriction in section 90.423 prohibits operations on aircraft that are
regularly flown at altitudes at one mile or above and, consequently, essentially bans Part 90 land mobile
radio use on commercial airline flights.20 These rules were enacted to prevent harmful interference with
land-based operations by the use of land mobile frequencies aboard high-flying aircraft, especially aircraft
operated by scheduled passenger airlines.21 The rules governing all other commercial mobile spectrum
bands are silent with regard to airborne operations.

B.

2004 Airborne Mobile NPRM
8.
On December 15, 2004, the Commission adopted the Airborne Mobile NPRM, in which it
proposed to relax or replace the Part 22 and Part 90 restrictions on airborne use of cellular mobile
handsets.22 The Airborne Mobile NPRM also included several proposals to facilitate the use of wireless
devices onboard airborne aircraft, including those used for broadband applications.23 Overall, the
proposals were intended “to minimize the potential for harmful interference to terrestrial systems while
providing maximum flexibility to wireless telecommunications carriers seeking to address consumer
demand for air-ground connectivity.”24
9.
Notably, the Airborne Mobile NPRM proposed to require onboard use of picocells to
prevent harmful interference to terrestrial mobile networks.25 Under this proposal, airborne picocells
would have been used to manage the power levels of mobile handsets onboard aircraft to ensure that they
operated at or near their minimum power levels.26 The Airborne Mobile NPRM also sought comment on
whether this proposal should be applied to only the 800 MHz cellular spectrum covered by the current
(Continued from previous page)
reh’g denied Jan. 29, 2002, Order on Remand, 18 FCC Rcd 1926 (2003), pet. for rev. denied sub nom; AT&T
Wireless Svcs., Inc. v. FCC
, 365 F.3d 1095 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
16 See Airborne Use of Cellular Telephones Report and Order, 7 FCC Rcd at 23 ¶ 5.
17 See id.
18 See id.
19 See 47 C.F.R. § 90.423.
20 See id.
21 See Amendment of Parts 89, 91, and 93 of the Commission’s Rules Concerning Use of Land Mobile Frequencies
Aboard Aircraft, Report and Order, Docket No. 19545, 42 F.C.C.2d 505, 505 ¶ 2 (1973) (Airborne Land Mobile
Order
).
22 See Amendment of the Commission’s Rules to Facilitate the Use of Cellular Telephones and Other Wireless
Devices Aboard Airborne Aircraft, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WT Docket No. 04-435, 20 FCC Rcd 3753
(2004) (Airborne Mobile NPRM).
23 See id. at 3754 ¶ 2.
24 See id. at 3755 ¶ 3.
25 See id. at 3755 ¶ 4, 3761-64 ¶¶ 13-21.
26 See id. at 3762 ¶¶ 14-16.
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Part 22 rule, or whether the picocell requirement should be expanded to include handsets and devices
operating on spectrum bands under Part 24, 27, or 90.27
10.
The Commission received more than 8,000 submissions in the docket.28 However, few of
the commenters provided requested technical analyses. Citing the insufficiency of the technical record
and finding that it would be premature to decide the issues presented in the Airborne Mobile NPRM
without additional information, the Commission terminated the proceeding on March 28, 2007.29 The
Commission, however, left open the possibility of revisiting the issues raised in this proceeding, should
new technical information become available.30

C.

International Developments

11.
Since the Commission issued the Airborne Mobile Termination Order in 2007, numerous
foreign communications administrations have issued regulations that have successfully allowed the non-
interfering use of mobile communications services on airborne aircraft utilizing Airborne Access
Systems.31
12.
Most notably, in 2008, the European Commission (EC) mandated that EU member
countries allocate the 1800 MHz band, which utilizes Global System for Mobile Communications
(GSM)32 technology, above 3,000 meters for mobile communications onboard aircraft (MCA).33 The EC
issued its Decision following a Report34 and a Decision35 from the Electronic Communications Committee

27 See id. at 3764 ¶¶ 20-21.
28 See generally Comments in WT Docket No. 04-435.
29 See Amendment of the Commission’s Rules to Facilitate the Use of Cellular Telephones and Other Wireless
Devices Aboard Airborne Aircraft, Memorandum Opinion and Order, WT Docket No. 04-435, 22 FCC Rcd 7156,
7156-57 ¶¶ 2-3 (2007) (Airborne Mobile Termination Order).
30 id. at 7157 ¶ 3.
31 Among these nations are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand,
and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) has adopted non-mandatory
Guidelines on Technical Conditions for the Use of Mobile Phones Onboard Aircraft. No. APT/AWG/OP-02
(Rev.2) (2008, rev. 2011), available at: http://www.apt.int/AWF-RECREP (APT Guidelines). APT members
include Australia, the Democratic Republic of Korea, India, Japan, New Zealand, the People’s Republic of China,
Philippines, the Republic of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
32 See, e.g., Recommendation ITU-R M.1224-1 (03/2012), Vocabulary of terms for International Mobile
Telecommunications (IMT), at 62, available at: http://www.itu.int/rec/R-REC-M.1224-1-201203-I/en (posted May
11, 2012); Report from CEPT to the European Commission in response to the Second Mandate to CEPT on mobile
communication services on board aircraft (MCA), CEPT Report 48, at 6 (Mar. 8, 2013), available at:
http://www.erodocdb.dk/Docs/doc98/official/pdf/CEPTREP048.PDF (CEPT MCA Report 48). The 1800 MHz
band is comprised of frequencies 1710-1785 MHz for uplink and 1805-1880 MHz for downlink. See, e.g.,
Commission Decision 2008/294/EC, 2008 O.J. (L 98/19), at Annex, Table 1 (EC), available at: http://eur-
lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:098:0019:0023:EN:PDF (EC Decision).
33 See EC Decision. Specifically, a “mobile communications service on aircraft” service is an “electronic
communications service[] . . . provided by an undertaking to enable airline passengers to use public communication
networks during flight without establishing direct connections with terrestrial mobile networks.” Id. at Art. 2. In the
United States, the 1710-1785 and 1805-1880 MHz bands are allocated for various uses, including commercial
wireless, federal use, fixed microwave, cable antenna relay service, and other uses.
34 Report from CEPT to the European Commission in response to the EC Mandate on Mobile Communication
Services on board aircraft (MCA), CEPT Report 016 (Mar. 30, 2007), available at:
http://www.erodocdb.dk/Docs/doc98/official/pdf/CEPTREP016.PDF (CEPT MCA Report 16).
35 ECC Decision of 1st December 2006 on the harmonised use of airborne GSM systems in the frequency bands
1710-1785 and 1805-1880 MHz, ECC/DEC/(06)07 (amended Mar. 13, 2009), available at:
http://www.erodocdb.dk/Docs/doc98/Official/Pdf/ECCDec0607.pdf (ECC Decision).
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(ECC) of the EU’s European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT).36
CEPT MCA Report 16 found that operating an Airborne Access System-based mobile communications
system above 3,000 meters above ground level37 prevents harmful interference to ground-based mobile
networks (in all studied bands38 in which the onboard mobile terminals would be capable of
transmitting).39
13.
Pursuant to the EC Decision, the communications administrations of all twenty-seven EU
member states subsequently created licensing mechanisms for airborne mobile services in their individual
jurisdictions.40 On November 14, 2013, the EC issued a new decision modifying the existing EC

36 The ECC is one of three business committees of CEPT. CEPT MCA Report 16 and the ECC Decision both were
created pursuant to a Mandate given by the EC to CEPT in 2006. CEPT MCA Report 16 at Annex 1. Pursuant to
the EU’s Radio Spectrum Decision (Decision No 676/2002/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7
March 2002 on a regulatory framework for radio spectrum policy in the European Community), CEPT is mandated
to undertake the work required to identify the most appropriate technical criteria for the timely and harmonized
introduction of mobile communications service on aircraft applications in the EU.
37 CEPT MCA Report 16 assumes an interference criterion of I/N < -6dB (equivalent to a 1 dB increase of the noise
floor) to terrestrial systems.
38 While CEPT Report 16 only addressed the operation of Airborne Access Systems in the 1800 MHz band, the
report did study potential harmful interference from such systems into terrestrial operations in the 460-470 MHz,
921-960 MHz, 1805-1880 MHz, and 2110-2170 MHz bands.
39 See generally CEPT MCA Report 16. The ECC Decision covers the free circulation and harmonized usage of
mobile communications service on aircraft systems and sets out the technical limits that should be observed to
ensure that such systems do not cause any harmful interference. See generally ECC Decision. See also Ofcom,
Mobile Communications on board Aircraft, Ofcom Statement on Authorising MCA Services, at 33(Mar. 26, 2008),
available at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/mca/statement/mca.pdf (Ofcom Statement). It
found that EU administrations must allow the use of mobile communications services on aircraft within the 1800
MHz band, provided that the system does not cause harmful interference to, or claim protection from, any other
authorized system and that the use of the system complies with the technical and operational requirements set out in
the ECC Decision. ECC Decision at 5. ECC Decisions are regulatory texts providing measures on significant
harmonization matters, which CEPT member national regulatory authorities are strongly urged, but not required, to
follow. ECC reports and decisions and CEPT reports inform EC decisions; EC decisions are binding on EU
Member States, but CEPT – and ECC – reports and decisions are not. See CEPT, All About Our Organisation, The
European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations, at 1,
http://www.cept.org/files/1047/CEPT_about_us.pdf; Ofcom Statement at 33.
40 See European Commission, Implementation of Decision 2008/294/EC, https://ec.europa.eu/digital-
agenda/sites/digital-agenda/files/2008_294_100915impl.pdf; see also Ofcom Statement. The nations that allow
mobile communications services on aircraft authorize the service in various ways. For example, in the United
Kingdom, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) authorizes the installation and use of airborne systems by varying
the aircraft radio license of aircraft registered in the United Kingdom through a Notice of Variation. See Ofcom
Statement at 23; Ofcom, Notice of Proposal to Make the Wireless Telegraphy (Mobile Communication Services on
Aircraft) (Exemption) Regulations 2008, Annex 7, Draft Notice of Variation (NoV) to Aircraft Licence (2008),
available at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/mca08/summary/mca.pdf. Pursuant to a Notice
of Variance, the Airborne Access System is authorized in the relevant aircraft radio license for certain frequencies,
with certain technical requirements. In Australia, for frequencies that are not licensed, use of the radiofrequency
spectrum for airborne mobile services may be authorized by an apparatus license for the onboard base station and by
a class license for user devices. See Australian Communications and Media Authority, Proposed amendments to
radiocommunications licensing instruments for mobile communication services on aircraft radiocommunications
licensing policy discussion paper at 11 (2009), available at:
http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib311255/mobile_svces_on_aircraft-disc_paper.pdf; Press Release,
Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA green lights new licensing arrangements for mobile
communication services on aircraft (July 30, 2010), http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/acma-media-release-
952010-30-july-2010-acma-green-lights-new-licensing-arrangements-for-mobile-communication-services-on-
aircraft. However, in licensed spectrum bands, mobile communications services on aircraft must be authorized by
(continued….)
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Decision in order to allow for additional frequency ranges and technologies, such as UMTS and LTE, to
be used in aircraft.41 Prior to this Decision, CEPT issued a Report on the technical aspects of adding these
new frequencies and technologies.42
14.
Outside of the United States, two third-party providers, OnAir and AeroMobile
Communications Ltd. (AeroMobile), currently offer mobile communications services on airborne
aircraft.43 OnAir provides such third-party services to airlines including British Airways, Emirates, and
Royal Jordanian,44 while AeroMobile provides such third-party services to airlines including Emirates,
SAS, and Virgin Atlantic.45 According to OnAir, approximately eighty countries across Europe, the
Middle East, North Africa, Asia Pacific, North America, and Latin America have authorized the use of its
service.46 As of May 2012, at least one foreign air carrier, Virgin Atlantic, has installed and is operating a
system to provide mobile communications services on some aircraft on transatlantic flights from the
United Kingdom to the United States.47
15.
We are not aware of any reported cases of harmful interference to terrestrial systems
stemming from the use of Airborne Access Systems since airlines began offering mobile communications
(Continued from previous page)
agreement with the spectrum license holder. Id.
41 See Commission Implementing Decision 2013/654/EU, 2013 O.J. (L 303/48) (EC), available at:
https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/commission-implementing-decision-c-2013-7491-mca-services-
adopted-12112013 (Updated EC Decision). The decision authorized the use of Long Term Evolution (LTE)
technology in the 1800 MHz band and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) technology in the
1920-1980 / 2110-2170 MHz band consistent with the recommendations set forth in CEPT MCA Report 48. See
also
Press Release, European Commission, Surfing in the sky: Commission gives airlines green-light for 3G and 4G
broadband services on board aircraft (Nov. 14, 2013), http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-1066_en.htm.
UMTS and LTE are technologies based on the GSM standard.
42 CEPT MCA Report 48.
43 See, e.g., Press Release, European Union, First European airlines offering in-flight use of mobile phones thanks to
EU-wide ground rules (Apr. 2, 2009), http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-09-526_en.htm?locale=en. See also
Todd Shields, Yes, You Can Use Your Phone on a Plane. Just Not to Talk., BLOOMBERG, Nov. 12, 2013,
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-12/airlines-run-from-onboard-gabfests-as-gadget-use-embraced.html;
Bart Jansen, Should U.S. airlines allow cell calls during flight?, USA TODAY, Oct. 8, 2012,
http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2012/10/07/airline-cellphones/1611079/; Kent German, Cell phones in
the sky: Airlines that allow mobile use
, CNET, Jan. 31, 2011, http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-20030100-
85.html#ixzz2NLo7c2UZ; FAQs, AeroMobile, http://www.aeromobile.net/passengers/faqs (AeroMobile FAQs);
Mobile OnAir, OnAir, http://www.onair.aero/en/commercial-airlines-products-mobile-onair.
44 Who Flies With Us, OnAir, http://www.onair.aero/en/commercial-airlines-customers (Who Flies with OnAir). See
also
Shields, supra note 40; Jansen, supra note 40. OnAir provides service to a total of sixteen air carriers: Aeroflot,
Azerbaijan Airlines, British Airways, Cebu Pacific Air, Egyptair, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Hong Kong
Airlines, Libyan Airlines, Oman Air, Philippine Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Saudia, Singapore
Airlines, and TAM Airlines. See also Shields, supra note 43; Jansen, supra note 43.
45 About Us, AeroMobile, http://www.aeromobile.net/about-us (About AeroMobile). See also Jansen, supra note
40. AeroMobile provides service to a total of nine air carriers: Aer Lingus, Air France, Emirates Airlines, Etihad
Airways, KLM Airlines, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Transaero Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.
About AeroMobile. See also Jansen, supra note 43.
46 Regulatory Bodies, OnAir, http://www.onair.aero/en/partners-regulatory-bodies.
47 See, e.g., Jansen, supra note 43; Rachel Sang-hee Han, Virgin Atlantic offers in-flight mobile service. Annoyed
yet?
, CNN, May 18, 2012; Virgin Atlantic allows in-flight calls - six at a time, BBC, May 16, 2012. Virgin Atlantic
disables the service within 250 miles of U.S. airspace. Jansen, supra note 43. Airborne Access Systems on board
Virgin Atlantic flights automatically switch off once they enter U.S. air space. Aeromobile - Where does it work?,
Virgin Atlantic, http://virginatlantic.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/675.
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services on airborne aircraft. In response to an FAA inquiry regarding the use of PEDs during flight,48
Panasonic stated that since deployment of the eXPhone system49 – a system for providing mobile
communications services on aircraft – there has been no harmful interference to aircraft systems or
terrestrial networks, nor have there been any system failures.50 In comments filed by AeroMobile in the
same proceeding, AeroMobile stated that it has operated its Airborne Access Systems since 2008
“without any reported instances of harmful interference to avionics or other aircraft systems, or to
terrestrial mobile networks.”51

D.

Current FCC Authorization of Airborne Broadband Access

16.
The Commission first paved the way for in-flight voice and data services in 1990 when it
allocated four megahertz of spectrum for commercial Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service.52 This led to
the deployment of service offered via seat-back phones in many commercial aircraft. Additionally, in
1998, the Commission granted to AirCell, Inc. (AirCell) a waiver of section 22.925’s airborne cellular
prohibition to allow AirCell to use cellular frequencies for in-flight communication using specially
designed equipment.53 In 2005, the Commission reconfigured the 800 MHz Air-Ground Radiotelephone
Service to facilitate the provision of broadband service to passengers aboard aircraft.54 After that,
companies began to offer Wi-Fi using unlicensed spectrum on aircraft along with an air-to-ground link.55

48 This proceeding is discussed in more detail in Section II.E, infra.
49 Panasonic is a part owner of AeroMobile. AeroMobile comments, Passenger Use of Portable Electronic Devices
on Board Aircraft, Docket No. FAA-2012-0752, at 1 (2012) (AeroMobile Comments to FAA). The companies
partner to provide the "eXPhone" system, which provides mobile communications services on aircraft. Id.
50 Panasonic Comments, Passenger Use of Portable Electronic Devices on Board Aircraft, Docket No. FAA-2012-
0752 at 2 (2012).
51 AeroMobile Comments to FAA at 1. In that same proceeding, AIRBUS stated that “[d]ue to the high robustness
of safety relevant equipment against EMI [electromagnetic interference], the number of proven EMI influence
caused by PED is negligible today.” AIRBUS comments, Passenger Use of Portable Electronic Devices on Board
Aircraft, Docket No. FAA-2012-0752 at 3 (2012).
52 See Amendment of the Commission's Rules Relative to Allocation of the 849-851/894-896 MHz Bands, Report
and Order
, GN Docket No. 88-96, 5 FCC Rcd 3861 (1990), recon. granted in part, Amendment of the Commission's
Rules Relative to Allocation of the 849-851/894-896 MHz Bands, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 6 FCC Rcd
4582 (1991). The Commission authorized this operation at 849-851 MHz (ground stations) and 894-896 MHz
(airborne mobile stations).
53AirCell, Inc., Petition, Pursuant to Section 7 of the Act, For a Waiver of the Airborne Cellular Rule, or in the
Alternative, For a Declaratory Ruling, Order, 14 FCC Rcd 806 (1998). Though AirCell operated in the cellular
spectrum (825 to 894 MHz), AirCell did not provide service to conventional cellular handsets. See id. at 807 ¶ 3.
Instead, AirCell used “modified cellular telephones” and specially-designed “airborne mobile terminals installed on
board general aviation aircraft” that incorporated a “specially designed aircraft antenna.” See id. at 806 ¶ 1, 807 ¶ 3.
54 See Amendment of Part 22 of the Commission’s Rules to Benefit the Consumers of Air-Ground
Telecommunications Services, Report and Order, WT Docket No. 03-103, 20 FCC Rcd 4403 (2005).
55 For example, Gogo Inc. (Gogo), formerly AirCell, acquired three megahertz of 800 MHz Air-Ground spectrum
and began offering Wi-Fi services on board aircraft in 2008. See Company info, History, Gogo,
http://gogoair.mediaroom.com/history. Gogo has installed Wi-Fi service on approximately 2,000 commercial
aircraft. See News Release, Gogo, Gogo Surpasses 2,000 Aircraft Installed with Its In-flight Internet Service (Sept.
26, 2013), http://ir.gogoair.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=251827&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1859111&highlight=. In
addition, Gogo recently introduced a new “Text & Talk” technology, which leverages Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi system
to allow passengers to send text messages and make phone calls using their smartphone while airborne. See Press
Release, Gogo, Gogo Unveils Its Next In-Air Technological Innovation: Gogo Text & Talk,
http://gogoair.mediaroom.com/2013-11-08-Gogo-Unveils-Its-Next-In-Air-Technological-Innovation-Gogo-Text-
Talk.
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17.
In addition to the 800 MHz Air-Ground band, satellite spectrum also has been used as an
air-to-ground link. The L-band Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) has been used to provide data service to
and from aircraft since the 1990s. Beginning in 2001, the Commission authorized, on an ad hoc basis, the
use of earth stations aboard aircraft (ESAA) communicating with Ku-band geosynchronous orbit (GSO)
Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) space stations to provide connectivity to airborne aircraft.56 In December
2012, the Commission adopted service and technical rules for ESAA operations to formalize ESAA as a
means of providing in-flight broadband services to passengers and flight crews aboard commercial
airliners and private aircraft (in conjunction with in-cabin Wi-Fi).57
18.
The Commission recently has taken further action to expand access to broadband services
onboard aircraft and improve the quality of services offered. Notably, on March 29, 2013, the Wireless
Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) granted Gogo’s request of a waiver of section 22.85358 of the
Commission’s rules to allow the assignment of one megahertz of LiveTV Inc.’s licensed nationwide 800
MHz Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service license to Gogo.59 Gogo now has access to all four megahertz
of nationwide 800 MHz Air-Ground spectrum, which Gogo asserts is necessary to provide the full array
of high-speed wireless communications services that consumers expect.60
19.
The Commission also has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to
establish a new air-ground mobile broadband service in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band.61 The new service will
operate on a secondary, non-interference basis with FSS Earth-to-space communications.62 If the rules
proposed in that proceeding are adopted, the new service would significantly increase the capacity
available to aircraft for broadband backhaul.

E.

Other Federal Government Actions

20.
In January 2013, the FAA Administrator established the PED Aviation Rulemaking
Committee (ARC) in order to provide a forum for the U.S. aviation community and PED manufacturers
to review comments received from the FAA’s Notice of Policy/Request for Comments regarding PED
policy and guidance.63 The ARC was tasked to make recommendations to further clarify and provide

56 See, e.g., Panasonic Avionics Corporation, Order and Authorization, 26 FCC Rcd 12557 (2011); Row 44, Inc.,
Order and Authorization, 24 FCC Rcd 10223 (2009); ViaSat, Inc., Order and Authorization, 22 FCC Rcd 19964
(2007); ARINC Incorporated, Order and Authorization, 20 FCC Rcd 7553 (2005); and Boeing Company, Order and
Authorization
, 16 FCC Rcd 5864 (2001), Order and Authorization, 16 FCC Rcd 22645 (2001). Gogo also was
recently granted an authorization to operate earth stations aboard aircraft transmitting in the Ku-band. Gogo LLC,
Application for Blanket Authority for Operation of 1,000 Technically Identical Ku-Band Transmit/Receive Earth
Stations in the Aeronautical Mobile Satellite Service
, IBFS File Nos. SES-LIC-20120619-00574, SES-AMD-
20120731-00709, SES-AFS-20121008-00902, granted May 1, 2013.
57 Revisions to Parts 2 and 25 of the Commission’s Rules to Govern the Use of Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft
Communicating with Fixed-Satellite Service Geostationary-Orbit Space Stations Operating in the 10.95-11.2 GHz,
11.45-11.7 GHz, 11.7-12.2 GHz and 14.0-14.5 GHz Frequency Bands, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order,
IB Docket No. 12-376, 27 FCC Rcd 16510 (2012) (ESAA Order). For example, Southwest Airline offers satellite
enabled Wi-Fi internet access. http://www.southwest.com/wifi/.
58 47 C.F.R. § 22.853.
59 See Application of AC BidCo, LLC, Gogo Inc., and LiveTV, LLC For Consent To Assign Commercial Aviation
Air-Ground Radiotelephone (800 MHz band) License, Call Sign WQFX729, Memorandum Opinion and Order, WT
Docket No. 12-155, 28 FCC Rcd 3362 (WTB 2013).
60 Id.at 3366-67 ¶¶ 13-14.
61 Expanding Access to Broadband and Encouraging Innovation through Establishment of an Air-Ground Mobile
Broadband Secondary Service for Passengers Aboard Aircraft in the 14.0-14.5 GHz Band, Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking
, GN Docket No. 13-114, 28 FCC Rcd 6765 (2013) (14 GHz NPRM).
62 See generally id.
63 See ARC Report; See also Press Release, FAA, supra note 4.
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guidance on allowing additional passenger PED usage without compromising the continued safe
operation of the aircraft.64 The ARC transmitted its report to the FAA Administrator on September 30,
2013, and the FAA released the report publicly on October 31, 2013.65
21.
The ARC concluded that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference
signals from PEDs. However, PEDs with cellular capabilities must disable those capabilities during
flight. The ARC recommended that, subject to this condition, PEDs be permitted to operate “gate-to-
gate” provided that the airline operators and aircraft manufacturers certify their aircraft to demonstrate
“tolerance” of emissions from PEDs.66 While cell phones were excluded from the scope of the ARC
Report, the ARC did recommend that the FAA consult with the Commission to review our current rules.67
On October 31, 2013, the FAA announced that, based on the ARC Report, it had determined that airlines
can safely expand passenger use of PEDs during all phases of flight and provided airlines with
implementation guidelines.68

III.

DISCUSSION

22.
In the six years since the Commission issued the Airborne Mobile Termination Order, the
mobile communications landscape has undergone a series of dramatic changes. Global mobile data traffic
increased by 70 percent from 2011 to 201269 and, driven by widespread adoption of smartphones, tablets,
and other high data use devices, it is projected to increase thirteen-fold by 2017.70 Consumers are ever
more dependent on reliable high speed connectivity for these devices for personal communications,
business, and entertainment. Moreover, as noted, numerous international administrations have adopted
rules for the safe, non-interfering use of mobile services on airborne aircraft utilizing Airborne Access
Systems.71 The successful widespread international adoption of these systems demonstrates the technical
viability of mobile communications services on airborne aircraft today.
23.
In light of the increasing demand for mobile communications services on airborne aircraft
and widespread confirmation of its technical viability, we propose to revise our rules to enable domestic
and international travelers to access mobile services onboard aircraft flying in U.S. airspace. To that end,
we propose to: (1) remove existing Commission restrictions on airborne use of mobile devices in the 800
MHz cellular and 800 MHz SMR bands;72 (2) harmonize regulations governing the operation of mobile

64 ARC Report at ix. See also Press Release, FAA, supra note 4.
65 See ARC Report at ix. See also Press Release, FAA, supra note 4.
66 See generally ARC Report.
67 See id. at 5, 34.
68 See Press Release, FAA, supra note 4; FAA, Expanding Use of Passenger Portable Electronic Devices (PED),
InFO Information for Operators, InFO 13010 (Oct. 31, 2013), available at:
http://www.faa.gov/other_visit/aviation_industry/airline_operators/airline_safety/info/all_infos/media/2013/InFO13
010.pdf; FAA, FAA Aid to Operators for the Expanded Use of PEDs, FAA, InFO Information for Operators, InFO
13010 SUP (Oct. 31, 2013), available at:
http://www.faa.gov/other_visit/aviation_industry/airline_operators/airline_safety/info/all_infos/media/2013/InFO13
010SUP.pdf; FAA, Expanded Use of Passenger Portable Electronic Devices (PED), Notice 8900.240 (Oct. 31,
2013), available at: http://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Notice/N8900.240.pdf (collectively, FAA
Guidance).
69 Global mobile data traffic was 885 petabytes per month at the end of 2012 as compared to 520 petabytes per
month at the end of 2011. See Cisco, Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–
2017 at 1 (rel. February 6, 2013), available at:
http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/white_paper_c11-520862.pdf.
70 See id. at 5-8.
71 See supra Section II.C.
72 See 47 C.F.R. §§ 22.925 and 90.423.
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devices on airborne aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands; and (3) implement a
comprehensive licensing and regulatory framework to facilitate access to mobile communications
services on aircraft. These proposals are consistent with our longstanding commitment to facilitate
universal broadband access, promote investment and innovation, and encourage efficient, flexible use of
spectrum. We seek comment on these proposals.
24.
The proposals in this Notice would also require airlines to install Airborne Access
Systems if they choose to provide mobile communications services on airborne aircraft. As described
below, the Airborne Access System incorporates hardware and software to enable the provision of service
and to manage services onboard the aircraft. In practice, the system would connect wireless devices on
the aircraft operating on licensed wireless frequencies to a terrestrial network via satellite or air-ground
links. While business models may vary, under one model, passengers on a flight with an Airborne Access
System would be able to access the wireless service to which they subscribe when above 3,048 meters
(10,000 feet) through the Airborne Access System, and would be billed for the service directly by their
service provider.73
25.
In this Notice, we also seek comment on the alternative licensing and regulatory
frameworks for the provision of mobile communications services on airborne aircraft, the potential impact
of these proposals on public safety and national security, and any potential operational issues related to
the use of mobile services, including voice, onboard aircraft. We are committed to working closely with
other federal agencies that have expertise and may have more appropriate jurisdiction over some of these
operational areas.
26.
Throughout the Notice, where we seek comment on the costs and benefits of a proposal,
we ask that commenters take into account costs and benefits that result from the implementation of the
particular rules that could be adopted, including any proposed requirement or potential alternative
requirement. Further, to the extent possible, commenters should provide specific data and information,
such as actual or estimated dollar figures for each specific cost or benefit addressed, including a
description of how the data or information was calculated or obtained, and any supporting documentation
or other evidentiary support.

A.

Changes to Current Rules Restricting Airborne Mobile Broadband Use

27.
As an initial matter, we propose to remove or modify the current restrictions on airborne
mobile operations in Parts 22 and 90 of the Commission’s rules.74 We propose to replace these
restrictions with references to a revised authorization regime under Part 87 of the Commission’s rules that
would allow aircraft station licensees to provide mobile communications services using an Airborne
Access System.75 We seek comment on whether, in light of the proposals set forth herein and recent
technological advances, these restrictions remain necessary to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial
mobile networks.

73 As an example of how this type of service has been offered internationally, OnAir has agreements with individual
airlines to provide service on board airplanes equipped with OnAir’s Airborne Access System. To provide its in-
cabin mobile service to passengers, OnAir has roaming agreements with various mobile network operators, and the
rates charged to passengers for mobile phone use are determined by the passenger’s home mobile operator. OnAir
also has partnered with satellite provider Inmarsat for its air-ground link. See FAQs, OnAir,
http://www.onair.aero/en/faqs (OnAir FAQs). AeroMobile’s mobile service also is comparable to international
roaming, whereby it has roaming agreements with home mobile operators, and roaming charges are set by the home
operator. See AeroMobile FAQs, supra note 40. Charges then appear on passengers’ existing mobile phone bill,
just as when roaming abroad. Id.
74 See 47 C.F.R. §§ 22.92 and 90.423.
75 See Appendix A.
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28.
We also propose to add cross references to the new Part 87 airborne mobile service
authorization to Parts 22, 24, 27, and 90 as set forth in Appendix A.76 We propose to make the rules
governing airborne mobile service consistent across all commercial mobile spectrum bands, thereby
reducing confusion, improving administrative efficiency, and promoting Airborne Access System
measures that will permit the provision of mobile communications services on aircraft across all
commercial mobile spectrum bands. We seek comment on these proposals. Parties that oppose the
removal of the extant bans or the harmonization of airborne mobile access rules should provide detailed
technical and legal analyses to support their positions.

B.

Airborne Access Systems

1.

Potential Harmful Interference from Uncontrolled Airborne Mobile Devices

29.
Mobile devices typically connect to a wireless network through the nearest cell site that
can serve the device. As the distance between the devices and cell sites increases, signals are attenuated
by terrain and obstacles such as buildings, and blocked by the curvature of the earth. However, an
uncontrolled wireless device on an airborne aircraft could potentially cause co-channel interference at
multiple cell sites.77 This is because, even though the airborne wireless signal becomes weaker with
increasing height above the ground, unlike the terrestrial case, it is not attenuated by terrain and obstacles,
and it is not affected by the curvature of the earth. Thus, the signal from an airborne handset with an
unobstructed line of sight may remain sufficiently strong as the device attempts to access multiple
terrestrial sites, causing harmful interference or other undesirable effects to terrestrial systems. We
concur with the conclusions in the CEPT MCA Reports that interactions between mobile terminals
onboard aircraft and terrestrial mobile networks are possible unless managed properly.78 Unmanaged
airborne mobile devices will attempt to connect and in some cases will succeed in temporarily connecting
to a terrestrial system, causing harmful interference and disruption to the system it is connected to and to
surrounding systems.79
2.

Benefits of Airborne Access Systems

30.
As set forth above, the current Part 22 and Part 90 prohibitions on mobile
communications services on aircraft were designed to guard against the threat of harmful interference
from airborne use of mobile devices to terrestrial wireless networks.80 Airborne Access Systems are used
to minimize the potential for airborne wireless devices interfering with terrestrial networks. The most
common Airborne Access System in use internationally today consists of an airborne picocell and a
network control unit (NCU).81 In effect, an airborne picocell is a low power base station transceiver
installed in the aircraft for the purpose of communicating with (and controlling the operations of) mobile

76 This proceeding does not address paging services authorized under Part 22 of the Commission’s rules. This
Notice is primarily concerned with facilitating the deployment of airborne mobile broadband services and, as such,
paging services are beyond the scope of this proposal.
77 Airborne Use of Cellular Telephones Report and Order, 7 FCC Rcd at 23 ¶ 5.
78 See generally CEPT MCA Report 16 and CEPT MCA Report 48.
79 According to one report, almost one-third (30 percent) of passengers report they have accidently left a PED turned
on during a flight. APEX/CEA Report at 5, 15. See also Press Release, APEX, supra note 3. The APEX/CEA
Report also found that when asked to turn off their electronic devices, 59 percent of passengers say they always turn
their devices completely off, 21 percent of passengers say they switch their devices to “airplane mode,” and 5
percent say they sometimes turn their devices completely off. APEX/CEA Report at 5, 15. See also Press Release,
APEX, supra note 3.
80 See Airborne Use of Cellular Telephones Report and Order, 7 FCC Rcd at 23 ¶ 5; Airborne Land Mobile Order,
42 F.C.C.2d at 505 ¶ 2.
81 Airborne Access Systems using picocells and NCUs are used extensively in EU member countries and elsewhere.
See supra Section II.C.
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handsets or other transmitting electronic devices onboard an aircraft. As illustrated in Figure A below,
the picocell controls the power levels of all transmitting mobile broadband devices operating onboard
aircraft, keeping them at or near their minimum output power. A picocell is analogous to an in-building
distributed antenna system (like those used in large buildings, malls, etc.) for use in the aircraft. The
signal travels from the handset to the picocell, which then relays the call to the ground via a separate air-
ground link, e.g., via a satellite band or the 800 MHz Air-Ground band, after which it can be transferred
to the terrestrial network.82 In addition, the NCU raises the noise floor within the cabin to prevent devices
from attempting to communicate with terrestrial networks.83 Under the rules proposed below, terrestrial
service providers and aircraft station licensees would be permitted to negotiate commercial agreements to
facilitate access to terrestrial networks.84 We note that for the Airborne Access Systems to effectively
prevent cell phones that have the capability to operate outside the network from attempting to
communicate with terrestrial networks and prevent potential interference to avionics, the noise floor likely
would have to be raised onboard aircraft in all commercial mobile spectrum bands. We seek comment on
whether airline passengers would be capable of accessing broadband services onboard aircraft over
commercial mobile spectrum bands absent an agreement between their terrestrial mobile service provider
and the aircraft station licensee.
31.
Used in this manner, Airborne Access Systems appear to be an effective means of
providing airline passengers with mobile broadband connectivity, while preventing harmful interference
to terrestrial wireless networks. Indeed, as noted above, Airborne Access Systems are used to provide
mobile broadband connectivity on flights in Europe and Asia.85 To date, we are unaware of any instances
of harmful interference to terrestrial systems resulting from the use of PEDs in conjunction with an
Airborne Access System on airborne aircraft.86 While these international systems primarily utilize GSM
technology,87 such use also is now permissible with other mobile technologies such as CDMA and LTE.88
We seek comment on the use of non-GSM mobile technologies onboard aircraft and ask commenters to
submit technical analyses and studies to support their arguments. We also seek comment on whether the
potential for harmful interference to terrestrial networks could vary depending on how heavily Airborne
Access Systems are used. Further, while we believe that airborne picocells are a proven technology and
could be used as effective Airborne Access Systems on domestic flights, consistent with our commitment

82 See Airborne Mobile NPRM, 20 FCC Rcd at 3761-62 ¶ 13; CEPT MCA Report 16 at 6.
83 See CEPT MCA Report 16 at 11-12.
84 See infra Section III.C.3.
85 See supra Section II.C.
86 See id.
87 See EC Decision at Table 1; AeroMobile Comments to FAA, Docket No. FAA-2012-0752 at 2.
88 See Updated EC Decision. See also CEPT MCA Report 48.
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to technological neutrality, we propose to permit any type of Airborne Access System that meets the
technical requirements set forth in the rules and any applicable rules and approval procedures required by
the FAA.
3.

Technical Requirements

32.
Based on the available research and international practices, we tentatively conclude that
Airborne Access Systems can be used to facilitate airborne mobile broadband access without causing
harmful interference to terrestrial networks. We therefore propose to allow airborne use of mobile
devices controlled by a properly managed Airborne Access System.
33.
Our review of existing operations reveals that, for an Airborne Access System to
effectively manage emissions from mobile broadband-capable devices, certain technical restrictions must
be enforced. Specifically, three types of devices transmitting aboard the aircraft must be limited in power
to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial networks: (1) the mobile device; (2) the picocell; and (3) the
NCU. Measures that may be taken to limit power include, but are not necessarily limited to, mobile
power restrictions, aircraft picocell power restrictions, NCU power and/or technology limitations, altitude
restrictions, and methods to prevent an airborne mobile phone from accessing the terrestrial CMRS
network. We use the technical analyses and conclusions released by CEPT earlier this year on these
matters as a baseline for our technical inquiries.89 We note that this report focused only on European
commercial mobile spectrum bands, and believe that CEPT’s findings are a solid foundation on which we
can adopt technical requirements. We seek comments on this belief, as well as on the potential
implications of the use of different spectrum bands in the United States. Are there any differences
between the commercial mobile spectrum bands used in the EU and those used in the United States that
would affect the relevant CEPT findings? We also ask commenters to provide us with any tests or
technical analyses that have been performed regarding the use of Airborne Access Systems over
commercial mobile spectrum bands in use in the United States. We note that the international systems
appear to offer service only in a particular frequency band or bands. Should Airborne Access Systems be
permitted to operate only in particular frequency bands? If so, which bands and what impact might this
have on competition?
a.

Mobile Device

34.
Unmanaged airborne PEDs will attempt to connect and in some cases will succeed in
temporarily connecting to a terrestrial system, causing harmful interference and disruption to the system it
is connected to and to surrounding systems.90 Thus, airborne mobile devices must be operated at
sufficiently low power levels to prevent harmful interference with terrestrial broadband networks while
still being able to communicate with the Airborne Access System.
35.
CEPT MCA Report 48 concluded that an Airborne Access System would not interfere
with terrestrial networks provided it met certain technical criteria.91 It defined acceptable radiation from
various sources for a point outside the aircraft at various altitudes. At 3,000 meters (approximately 9,842
feet), the report specifies an aggregate effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP) of 3.1 dBm/3.84
megahertz outside the aircraft for up to 20 individual mobile UMTS devices limited to -6 dBm/3.84
megahertz.92 The report also specifies a limit of 1.7 dBm/5 megahertz for individual LTE devices
transmitting at 5 dBm/5 megahertz at 3,000 meters.93 Because the analysis in CEPT MCA Report 48 is
limited to frequency bands utilized within the EU, we request comment on whether the same findings are

89 See CEPT MCA Report 48.
90 See generally CEPT MCA Report 16 and CEPT MCA Report 48.
91 See CEPT MCA Report 48.
92 See id. at 21.
93 See id.
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applicable to systems operating on bands used for commercial mobile radio services in the United States
and whether any adjustments to CEPT MCA Report 48’s findings or methods should be made.94 We
encourage commenters to submit relevant data and studies pertaining to bands used for commercial
mobile radio services in the United States. What, if any, adjustments to these assumptions must be made
for other mobile technologies? We also request comment on whether it is necessary to limit the number
of mobiles in operation, or if an aggregate limit for emissions from the aircraft is sufficient to protect
terrestrial systems from harmful interference. Is such an approach practical? Should the rules require the
Airborne Access System to limit the maximum in-cabin transmit power of individual mobile units rather
than specifying the allowable aggregate EIRP outside the aircraft? Commenters should include technical
analyses to support their proposals, including the costs and benefits of adopting a particular approach.
b.

Aircraft Picocell

36.
The aircraft picocell communicates with the individual mobile devices onboard the
aircraft and with its air-to-ground or satellite backhaul link.95 The power of onboard picocells must be
limited to prevent harmful interference to the terrestrial network. CEPT MCA Report 48 limits the EIRP
outside the aircraft from picocell transmissions to 1.0 dBm/3.84 megahertz for UMTS and 1.0
dBm/megahertz for LTE.96 We request comment on whether these levels are appropriate and can be
applied to operations on U.S. commercial mobile spectrum bands. We also encourage commenters to
submit relevant data and studies pertaining to bands used for commercial mobile radio services in the
United States. What would be an appropriate method of making measurements or otherwise determining
compliance? How should the Commission approach equipment authorization of picocells given that
compliance would be determined by the aircraft in which the system is installed? We also request
comment on whether we should limit the type of technology utilized for communications between the
picocell and onboard mobiles to minimize the risk of harmful interference with terrestrial networks. We
note that in its initial report, CEPT limited its analysis of communication services aboard aircraft to
picocells operating with GSM technology97 but its more recent report offers expanded analysis on both
UMTS and LTE.98 From an interference standpoint, are some technologies used on airborne aircraft less
likely to cause harmful interference to terrestrial networks than others?
c.

Network Control Unit

37.
The NCU prevents mobile devices from connecting to the terrestrial network while on the
aircraft. Uncontrolled, some mobile devices are capable of contacting terrestrial networks, even at
altitudes exceeding 3,048 meters (10,000 feet).99 The NCU raises the noise floor within the aircraft cabin
to prevent onboard mobile devices from communicating with the terrestrial network.100 NCUs also must
be limited in power to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial networks. CEPT MCA Report 48
specifies for operations in the 2600 MHz (2500-2570 MHz and 2620-2690 MHz) band a limit at 3000
meters of 1.9 dBm/4.75 megahertz and for operations in the 800 MHz (790-862 MHz) band the limit
is -0.87 dBm/10 megahertz.101 The EC previously established limits for the 460-470 MHz, 921-960 MHz,

94 For example, the report assumed operation in the 2100 MHz and 1800 MHz bands. The limitations discussed
above, if applicable, could be adjusted to account for changes in free space path loss for operation on U.S. spectrum.
95 CEPT’s analysis assumes an Airborne Access System using one or more picocells.
96 See CEPT MCA Report 48 at 21-22.
97 See CEPT MCA Report 16.
98 See CEPT MCA Report 48.
99 See id. at 13, 16, 21-22.
100 See EC Decision at Article 2; CEPT MCA Report 48 at 10.
101 See CEPT MCA Report 48 at 22.
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1805-1880 MHz, and 2110-2170 MHz bands in its Decision.102 Those findings were reaffirmed by CEPT
MCA Report 48.103 We request comment on whether these levels are appropriate and can be applied to
operations on domestic mobile spectrum bands. As CEPT MCA Report 48 limits vary by frequency
band, which of these limits would be appropriate for each of the bands used for commercial mobile
service in the United States? We encourage commenters to submit relevant data and studies pertaining to
bands used for commercial mobile radio services in the United States. We also seek comment on whether
there are other technical solutions that could prevent an onboard mobile device from accessing the
terrestrial network.
38.
We also seek comment generally on CEPT’s findings and technical proposals. We ask
that commenters address: (1) whether Airborne Access Systems can effectively prevent harmful
interference into terrestrial wireless networks; (2) whether alternative or supplemental technological
solutions would be more effective; (3) whether the proposed power levels are appropriate; and (4) what
additional technical specifications may be needed to ensure that these systems and airborne mobile
broadband devices do not interfere with existing terrestrial networks. We also request comment on any
other technical restrictions or requirements that may be necessary to prevent harmful interference to
terrestrial CMRS networks or to ensure reliable communications for mobile communications services on
aircraft, or whether an alternative technical solution may be more appropriate in the domestic
marketplace. Commenters should include technical analyses to support their proposals, including the
costs and benefits of adopting a particular approach.
39.
We reiterate that the FAA is responsible for regulations regarding the safety of
passengers and crew aboard domestic aircraft. As such, regardless of the ultimate disposition of this
proceeding, all elements of the Airborne Access Systems and any permissible airborne mobile devices
remain subject to applicable FAA rules. In addition, elements of these systems may be subject to FAA
certification, testing, and approval; the FAA has a comprehensive process by which it certifies all aspects
of commercial and general aviation aircraft, and any Airborne Access System presumably would be
subject to these procedures.104 In addition, in response to the ARC Report, the FAA has adopted
procedures to test and certify that aircraft manufactured in the United States are tolerant of PED
emissions.105
40.
Although any FAA actions related to the issues in this proceeding are outside the
Commission’s scope, in order to fully comprehend this regulatory framework, we seek information
regarding any aspect of the FAA’s authority regarding Airborne Access Systems that we should
appropriately consider in this proceeding. We reiterate that we are committed to working closely with
other federal agencies that have expertise and may have more appropriate jurisdiction in these areas.
41.
Moreover, we note that, within the context of applicable FCC, FAA, and DoT rules,
individual airlines will have flexibility to deploy or not deploy mobile communications services on an
aircraft-by-aircraft basis. For example, abroad, OnAir and AeroMobile offer airlines the option of
selecting which type of mobile communications services they offer,106 and foreign airlines have chosen to
offer the mobile communications services in different ways. For example, Ireland’s Aer Lingus allows

102 See EC Decision at Table 3.
103 See CEPT MCA Report 48 at 22.
104 See Aircraft Certification, FAA, http://www.faa.gov/aircraft/; Advisory Circulars, Aircraft, FAA,
http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/advisory_circulars/index.cfm/go/document.list/parentTopicID/101; The
FAA and Industry Guide to Product Certification (CPI Guide)
, FAA,
http://www.faa.gov/aircraft/air_cert/design_approvals/media/cpi_guide_ii.pdf.
105 See FAA PED Press Release; FAA Guidance; ARC Report at 23-25, Appendix F.
106 See OnAir FAQs (“Operators using Mobile OnAir can also choose to turn off the voice element of the Mobile
OnAir service, for example during the plane’s local night.”).
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texting and Internet access using mobile communications but does not allow the use of voice calls in the
cabin, while the UK’s Virgin Atlantic offers passengers the option of accessing the Internet, texting, and
making voice calls through their mobile communications system.107

C.

Airborne Commercial Mobile Use

42.
We propose to allow aircraft station licensees to provide airborne commercial mobile
services as part of their aircraft station license under Part 87 of the Commission’s rules and seek comment
on alternative authorization methodologies. Under any airborne authorization scheme, Airborne Access
Systems would be required to manage in-flight mobile use. Mobile communications services controlled
by authorized Airborne Access Systems would be permitted across all commercial mobile spectrum bands
at altitudes above 3,048 meters (10,000 feet). These authorizations would cover only in-cabin operations.
Moreover, any authorization method would require an agreement with separately authorized satellite or
air-to-ground backhaul links to transmit mobile data from the aircraft to terrestrial networks.
1.

Part 87 Authorization Methodology

a.

Part 87 Aircraft License Modification

43.
We propose to revise Part 87 of the Commission’s rules to permit mobile
communications services on aircraft as one element of an aircraft station license and seek comment on
this proposal, as well as alternative authorization frameworks. Part 87 of the Commission’s rules governs
the authorization and use of radio services onboard aircraft, between aircraft, and between air and ground
stations for aircraft travelling domestically and U.S. aircraft travelling to international destinations
(including international waters).108 Unless exempted, airlines must obtain an aircraft station license to
cover any radio equipment or services other than certain two-way VHF, radar, or emergency locator
services.109 Under certain conditions, two or more aircraft having a common owner or operator may be
issued a single fleet license to cover all aircraft stations in a given fleet.110 We seek comment on how this
proposal would work with FAA’s established airframe dependent equipment certification procedures.
44.
Authorizing the proposed use in this manner would allow airlines and other commercial
aircraft operators to install and operate Airborne Access Systems as part of their existing aircraft station
or fleet licenses.111 Aircraft station licensees would be required to file for a modification of their existing
aircraft station or fleet licenses on FCC Form 605 to include the newly designated airborne mobile
communications authorization.112 To the extent that an aircraft operator does not have an aircraft station
license, that aircraft operator would, under this proposal, be required to apply for an aircraft station
license in order to operate an Airborne Access System. Licensees would be permitted to contract with
third parties to install and operate Airborne Access System aboard licensed aircraft.113 However, aircraft

107 See Inflight Experience, Comfort and Entertainment, Transatlantic Economy, Wi-Fi & Connectivity, Aer Lingus,
http://www.aerlingus.com/inflight-experience/comfort-and-entertainment/longhaul/wifi-connectivity/; Mobile
Phones
, Virgin Atlantic, http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/us/en/the-virgin-experience/inflight-connectivity/mobile-
phones.html.
108 See 47 C.F.R. § 87.1, et seq. We note that U.S.-registered civil aircraft licensed for an Airborne Access System
would bear the responsibility of ascertaining and complying with the applicable laws, regulations, and rules of any
foreign nation in which they seek to operate.
109 See Amendment of Parts 80 and 87 of the Commission's Rules to Permit Operation of Certain Domestic Ship and
Aircraft Radio Stations Without Individual Licenses, Report and Order, WT Docket No. 96-82, 11 FCC Rcd 14849
(1996); 47 C.F.R. § 87.18(b).
110 See 47 C.F.R. § 87.18.
111 See Appendix A.
112 See id.
113 See id.
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station licensees would retain sole responsibility for ensuring that such equipment is installed and
operated in accordance with all applicable rules.
45.
The airborne radio environment is interference-sensitive and must be closely controlled
by aircraft station licensees to ensure stable operation of mission critical equipment, the safety of aircraft
passengers and crew, and compliance with all applicable rules and regulations. Aircraft station licensees
currently manage this unique environment for a wide variety of radio services in accordance with FCC
and FAA rules.114 As such, they may be well positioned to ensure that Airborne Access Systems are
properly operated and integrated into the existing device ecosystem. Indeed, regardless of the
authorization scheme we select, no Airborne Access System could be installed and operated without the
permission, supervision, and control of aircraft station licensees.115 In addition, modifying existing
aircraft fleet or station licenses to include proposed airborne mobile communications use should not
impose significant administrative burdens on applicants or the Commission. Finally, this proposal is
roughly analogous to the successful authorization regimes adopted by other administrations in recent
years.116
46.
We propose to retain the current licensing assignment methods applicable to Part 87
aircraft station licenses. Although we propose to permit licensees to provide a new service offering, the
underlying functions of aircraft station licenses remains the same. Under this proposal, existing aircraft
station licensees seeking to provide mobile communications services on aircraft could request a
modification of their current authorizations to permit operation of an Airborne Access System, and
applicants for new aircraft station authorizations could indicate on their applications their intention to
provide mobile communications services on aircraft. We seek comment on whether such license
modifications must be placed on public notice for thirty days pursuant to Section 309 of the
Communications Act.117 We seek comment on this proposed authorization approach, as well as the
alternative authorization mechanisms listed below, and on what changes, if any, may need to be made to
the table of allocations to reflect this licensing regime.118
47.
We acknowledge that, with respect to the NCU transmissions and the communications
between the picocell and the consumer mobile devices, the Airborne Access System proposed here would
operate on spectrum licensed to mobile service providers for terrestrial wireless use. However, we do not
propose to modify the existing rights of commercial mobile licensees or otherwise impede their ability to
provide mobile services within their license areas. Under our proposal, aircraft operators should be able
to offer access to wireless services to the limited confines of the in-cabin environment in a safe and
effective manner – and thereby extend broadband service to an otherwise difficult-to-serve market
segment – while protecting incumbent terrestrial licensees from harmful interference and without
infringing upon incumbents’ existing operations. We seek comment on this proposal, including potential
impacts it may have on the existing rights of terrestrial mobile licensees.
b.

Alternative Authorization Methods

48.
We also seek comment on alternative authorization methods. For completeness, we
describe several alternatives below, although we acknowledge that some of these methods may suffer
from deficiencies that make them less desirable in a public interest analysis. We also request comment on
other approaches that are not enumerated below. We encourage commenters to provide details on how
any authorization regime, including the Part 87 authorization method described above, would work in

114 See generally ARC Report; FAA Guidance.
115 Id.
116 See supra Section II.C.
117 See 47 U.S.C. § 309(a).
118 As noted below, we propose to prohibit mobile communications services on aircraft from operating on spectrum
allocated exclusively for federal use. See infra Section III.C.3.
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practice (including the relationship with other licensees or services authorized in the same frequency
bands), how it would further the various public interest goals enumerated in this Notice, and its relative
costs and benefits.
49.
Non-Exclusive License. One alternative authorization method would establish an
Airborne Access System Service pursuant to which applicants could file for non-exclusive licenses to
provide airborne mobile services. Eligibility for such licenses would be limited to applicants with
appropriate commercial agreements with aircraft operators to operate such systems on specific aircraft.
Would such an authorization system provide additional benefits to the public or to aircraft station
licensees? Under this alternative authorization scheme, would the airlines retain sufficient control over
the in-cabin environment to ensure that services are provided safely and effectively? Are there any
additional eligibility conditions that should be required of licensees under this authorization method?
50.
Secondary Markets. Another option would authorize operation of an Airborne Access
System pursuant to spectrum lease agreements with mobile wireless service providers. We observe that
for any given flight, an aircraft is likely to fly above license areas for many different licensees. Moreover,
the licensees implicated will likely vary throughout the course of the flight. The Commission has issued
thousands of geographic mobile licenses.119 Would this authorization method be administrable in
practice? How would the Commission ensure that a leasing arrangement involves the necessary parties?
Would it require the cooperation of every mobile wireless service provider? Would the use of a leasing
framework introduce market efficiencies or inefficiencies not present in other authorization models?
Under this alternative, how would the Commission determine the boundaries of mobile licenses along a
flight path and at various altitudes, especially considering the curvature of the earth?
51.
Auctioned Sky Licenses. Alternately, should the Commission create nationwide or
geographic “sky licenses” and allow eligible applicants to bid on these licenses via auction? Would such
an authorization system provide unique benefits to the public or to aircraft station licensees? How would
the Commission determine the geographic boundaries of such licenses and the proper number of licensees
for each geographic area? How would such a licensing construct affect the ability of airlines to manage
their in-cabin environment? Would such an authorization method create “artificial” limitations on
market-based agreements between airlines and Airborne Access System providers?
52.
Unlicensed Use or License-by-Rule. Should the Commission authorize unlicensed use of
an Airborne Access System pursuant to our Part 15 rules? Alternatively, would a license-by-rule
approach be appropriate? Both methods appear, on first consideration, to raise significant issues with
respect to providing airlines sufficient ability to manage mobile access in flight and to mitigate potential
harmful interference into terrestrial networks. Do commenters agree? How would such authorization
mechanisms work in practice? Would they require revisions to existing rule parts? Would these
methodologies offer appropriate Commission oversight of the mobile communications services being
proposed?
53.
Commenters that advocate an alternative authorization methodology should support their
arguments with detailed technical and legal analyses. Commenters should also address how the issues
raised in Sections III.C.2. and 3. below would apply for any alternative authorization scheme.
2.

Scope of the Authorization

54.
To facilitate the widespread use of airborne mobile data services, we propose to authorize
aircraft station licensees to operate Airborne Access Systems that encompass all domestic commercial
mobile spectrum bands. Most broadband capable mobile devices are capable of accessing multiple
commercial mobile spectrum bands which vary by device and mobile service provider. We tentatively
conclude that permitting Airborne Access Systems to operate across all such bands would provide greater

119 There are over 14,166 licenses, held by approximately 788 unique entities (based on licensee FCC Registration
Number), for the spectrum bands within the scope of this Notice.
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access to broadband data for the travelling public, and is consistent with the Commission’s longstanding
policy of technological neutrality. However, our proposal does not require a compliant Airborne Access
System to cover all commercial mobile spectrum bands or wireless technologies.120 We seek comments
on our proposal to not require Airborne Access Systems to cover all commercial mobile spectrum bands,
including on whether this approach may increase the risk of harmful interference to terrestrial networks.
55.
We further propose that airborne commercial broadband operations be permitted only at
altitudes exceeding 3,048 meters (10,000 feet). The available research suggests that, at those altitudes,
there is little to no risk of harmful interference into terrestrial mobile networks from properly managed
airborne mobile operations.121 Moreover, this service floor is consistent with the rules established by the
EU for airborne GSM mobile use.122 As noted above, we are unaware of any instances of harmful
interference from properly managed airborne mobile broadband operations at altitudes above 3,048
meters (10,000 feet) into terrestrial mobile networks. We seek comment on whether the 3,048 meter
(10,000 feet) service floor is appropriate for all mobile technologies (e.g., CDMA, GSM, and LTE) and
spectrum bands. We also seek comment as to whether we should allow Airborne Access Systems to
remain operational below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet), even if mobile communications services are not
permitted at that altitude. Could low altitude Airborne Access System use actually help mitigate harmful
interference by preventing activated mobile devices from attempting to access terrestrial networks? We
encourage commenters to support their arguments with detailed technical studies and analyses for
domestic commercial mobile spectrum bands and technologies, including detailed analyses of the costs
and benefits of any such proposals.
56.
We tentatively conclude that, if adopted, our proposal to permit the provision of mobile
communications services on aircraft-by-aircraft station licensees at altitudes above 3,048 meters (10,000
feet) would promote the public interest by expanding mobile broadband coverage to consumers in an
efficient, non-interfering manner. The deployment of Airborne Access Systems aboard commercial
aircraft could provide significant public benefits without harming existing terrestrial licensees in the band.
Moreover, terrestrial mobile licensees could benefit from this new commercial service offering if they
choose to partner with aircraft station licensees on commercial connection agreements. We seek
comment on these proposals and conclusions as well as viable alternative models. Commenters should
provide detailed legal and technical analyses in support of their proposals, including detailed analyses of
the costs and benefits of any such proposals.
3.

Other Authorization and Licensing Issues

57.
Regulatory Status. While aircraft stations authorized under Part 87 are typically
considered private mobile radio services,123 we propose to allow aircraft station licensees choosing to
offer mobile communications services using an Airborne Access System to specify their regulatory status
depending on the service they are providing. The Commission’s current radio service license application
requires an applicant for mobile services to identify the regulatory status of the service(s) it intends to
provide because service offerings may bear on the applicant’s eligibility to be a licensee, and other
statutory and regulatory requirements.124 In applying that model, an applicant is permitted to choose
among several regulatory classifications (e.g., common carrier, non-common carrier, or private, internal
communications), or a combination thereof, and prospective airborne mobile licensees may benefit from a

120 See supra Section III.B.3.
121 See supra Section II.C.
122 See EC Decision at Article 4.
123 See 47 C.F.R. § 20.3.
124 See FCC Form 601.
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similar approach.125 We seek comment on the merits of applying a similar licensing approach to the
provision of mobile communications services on aircraft and ask that commenters discuss the costs and
benefits of this approach. We also seek comment on whether there are any obligations under a particular
classification that should not apply to mobile communications services on aircraft. For example, should
an aircraft station licensee that elects a common carrier regulatory status be required to comply with all
rules applicable to CMRS licensees under Part 20 of the Commission’s rules given the limited scope of
the in-cabin service offering?126
58.
If the Commission permits an aircraft station licensee to choose its regulatory status in
this manner, we propose that such licensees must identify their regulatory status on the FCC Form 605.127
We also propose that if a licensee changes the service it offers such that it would be inconsistent with its
regulatory status, the licensee must notify the Commission.128 Further, we propose that licensees must
file the notice within 30 days of a change made without the need for prior Commission approval. We seek
comment on whether a different time period should apply where the change results in the discontinuance,
reduction, or impairment of the existing service.129 We seek comment on alternative proposals regarding
changes to the regulatory status of a mobile communications services on aircraft provider and the costs
and benefits of such proposals.
59.
Given our proposal to allow an aircraft station licensee to choose its regulatory status, we
note that all Commission licensees are subject to the provisions of section 310 of the Act.130 Section 310
requires the Commission to review foreign investment in radio station licenses and imposes specific
restrictions on who may hold certain types of radio licenses.131 Specifically, section 310(a) of the Act

125 The Commission sought comment on a similar approach in the 14 GHz NPRM. See 14 GHz NPRM, 28 FCC Rcd
at 6781-82 ¶¶ 54-55.
126 For example, section 20.15 identifies requirements relating to Title II of the Communications Act that are
applicable to CMRS licensees. See 47 C.F.R. § 20.15. Such Title II requirements include the obligation to provide
service "upon reasonable request therefor," and at a "just and reasonable" rate, 47 U.S.C. § 201, as well as the
requirement to provide services without "unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications,
regulations, facilities, or services." 47 U.S.C. § 202. Other obligations identified in Part 20 include 911 service,
hearing aid compatibility as well as roaming. See 47 C.F.R. §§ 20.12, 20.18, 20.19.
127 Form 605 would be modified to incorporate this proposal.
128 See, e.g., 47 C.F.R. § 27.10(d).
129 See, e.g., 47 C.F.R. § 27.66.
130 47 U.S.C. § 310 provides in relevant part: “(a) The station license required under this Act shall not be granted to
or held by any foreign government or representative thereof. (b) No broadcast or common carrier or aeronautical en
route or aeronautical fixed radio station license shall be granted to or held by—(1) any alien or the representative of
any alien; (2) any corporation organized under the laws of any foreign government; (3) any corporation of which
more than one-fifth of the capital stock is owned of record or voted by aliens or their representatives or by a foreign
government or representative thereof or by any corporation organized under the laws of a foreign country; (4) any
corporation directly or indirectly controlled by any other corporation of which more than one-fourth of the capital
stock is owned of record or voted by aliens, their representatives, or by a foreign government or representative
thereof, or by any corporation organized under the laws of a foreign country, if the Commission finds that the public
interest will be served by the refusal or revocation of such license.”). 47 U.S.C. §§ 310(a), (b). See also Review of
Foreign Ownership Policies for Common Carrier & Aeronautical Radio Licensees Under Section 310(b)(4) of the
Communications Act of 1934, As Amended, Second Report and Order, IB Docket No. 11-133, 28 FCC Rcd 5741
(2013).
131 A “station license” is defined in Section 3(49) of the Act as “that instrument of authorization required by [the]
Act or the rules and regulations of the Commission made pursuant to [the] Act, for the use or operation of apparatus
for transmission of energy, or communications, or signals by radio by whatever name the instrument may be
designated by the Commission.” 47 U.S.C. § 153(49). For example, the Commission issues radio station licenses
for the provision of broadcast, wireless personal communications services, cellular, microwave, aeronautical en
route, and mobile satellite services.
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expressly prohibits a foreign government or its representative from holding any radio license.132 Further,
section 310(b) places additional restrictions on who can hold a broadcast, common carrier, aeronautical en
route and aeronautical fixed radio station license.133 In particular, the foreign ownership restrictions in
sections 310(b)(3) and (b)(4)134 may be implicated for those airlines that have foreign ownership –
whether governmental or non-governmental – where the airline provider seeks authorization to provide a
common carrier service under the rules adopted in this proceeding.135 We therefore tentatively conclude
that we should revise FCC Form 605 to require all applicants to answer foreign ownership questions to
ensure compliance with section 310. We seek comment on this tentative conclusion.
60.
Connection with Terrestrial Networks. The rules governing connection with terrestrial
networks would vary depending on the regulatory classification selected by a given aircraft station
licensee. Aircraft station licensees that choose to register as CMRS providers would be subject to
applicable Part 20 and common carrier obligations.136 The requirements applicable to a regulatory
classification would govern the rights and obligations of licensees’ connections to terrestrial networks.
All licensees would be permitted to enter into commercial agreements with terrestrial mobile licensees for
connection to their terrestrial wireless networks. We seek comment on the costs and benefits of this
approach and any other approaches that may be used to connect mobile communications services on
aircraft with terrestrial networks.
61.
Handset Authorization. Section 301 of the Communications Act requires a valid FCC
license to operate a radio frequency transmitter, including a wireless handset, aircard, or other mobile
broadband device.137 This statutory requirement is reflected in the Commission’s rules, which require
either an FCC license or licensee consent to operate a station in the Wireless Radio Services.138 Our
proposal grants aircraft station licensees authorization to operate Airborne Access Systems on commercial
mobile spectrum bands. As the definition of Wireless Radio Services includes services provided pursuant
to Part 87 of the Commission’s rules,139 we conclude that, for purposes of airborne mobile
communications services operations, wireless devices can be operated as subscriber equipment under the
aircraft station license, consistent with the proposed rules set forth in Appendix A. We seek comment on
this tentative conclusion.

132 47 U.S.C. § 310(a). This prohibition is absolute, and the Commission has no discretion to waive it. The
Commission has stated that, for purposes of section 310(a), a “representative” is a person or entity that acts “on
behalf of” or “in connection with” the foreign government. See, e.g., QVC Network, Inc., Memorandum Opinion
and Order
, 8 FCC Rcd 8485, 8490-91 ¶ 21 (1993) (quoting Letter from the Commission to Russell G. Simpson, Esq.,
2 F.C.C. 2d 640 (1966)).
133 47 U.S.C. § 310(b).
134 Id. at §§ 310(b)(3) and (4).
135 Providers of mobile radio services are typically considered common carriers under the Act. See 47 U.S.C. § 332
136 See, e.g., 47 C.F.R. §§ 20.11 and 20.12. As explained in paragraph 57, supra, we seek comment on the CMRS
obligations that should apply to aircraft station licensees that choose to operate as CMRS.
137 47 U.S.C. § 301.
138 See 47 C.F.R. § 1.903(c) (“[A]uthority for subscribers to operate mobile or fixed stations in the Wireless Radio
Services…is included in the authorization held by the licensee providing service to them.”). We note that, applying
the language of section 1.903(c) to our proposed expansion of the Part 87 license, if a Part 87 licensee provides
service to subscribers using devices normally served by a terrestrial-based provider, the “authority for [such]
subscribers to operate” these devices would be included in the Part 87 license at the time these subscribers are
receiving service from the Part 87 licensee; under these circumstances, the “licensee providing service” to the
subscribers is the Part 87 licensee, not the terrestrial-based provider.
139 See 47 C.F.R. § 1.907.
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62.
Section 333. Section 333 of the Communications Act states that “[n]o person shall
willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station
licensed or authorized by or under this Act….”140 The proposed Airborne Access Systems likely will
operate by maintaining transmissions from mobile devices operating on commercial mobile spectrum
bands at or near their lowest power level, thereby preventing these devices from attempting to access
terrestrial base stations.141 We tentatively conclude that, pursuant to section 1.903 of the Commission’s
rules, mobile units would be deemed to be authorized and operated under the aircraft station license.
Accordingly, we tentatively conclude that operation of an Airborne Access System to prevent mobile
transmissions from affecting terrestrial base stations constitutes a proper network management function
and is not the willful or malicious interference at issue in Section 333. We seek comment on these
tentative conclusions.
63.
Federal Spectrum. Most of the Airborne Access Systems currently authorized by foreign
countries operate, at least partially, in the 1800 MHz band, consistent with international commercial
allocation of this band.142 It is conceivable that U.S.-registered aircraft that wish to offer airborne mobile
communications services will choose Airborne Access Systems with the technical ability to operate in
that band, particularly those aircraft that operate internationally. Included in this band are the frequencies
1755-1850 MHz, which in the United States currently is allocated on an exclusive basis to the United
States federal government for fixed and mobile services, including airborne systems.143 We therefore
propose requiring airlines (whether U.S.-registered or registered by another administration) operating an
Airborne Access System in the 1755-1850 MHz frequency band to turn off the Airborne Access System
or otherwise disengage transmission in this band prior to reaching U.S. airspace.144 We seek comment on
this proposal, including potential in-flight enforcement issues. We also note that the Commission has
proposed to make the 1755-1780 MHz band available for shared federal and non-federal use.145 We seek
comment on what, if any, impact such shared operations could have on the proposals set forth in this
Notice. In addition, we note that other bands are subject to operational limitations that could affect their
availability for airborne commercial mobile operations.146 We seek comment on what, if any, impact such
operational limitations could have on the proposals set forth in this Notice. Given our proposal to prohibit
operations on Federal frequencies, we invite comment as to whether it would be technologically feasible

140 47 U.S.C. § 333.
141 See supra Section III.B.3.
142 See, e.g., APT Guidelines. As described above, the EU has mandated that mobile communications services on
aircraft operate in the GSM 1800 band. See supra Section II.C.
143 See 47 C.F.R. § 2.106. See also Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), Working
Group 2: 1755-1850 MHz Law Enforcement Surveillance, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, and other short distance
links, at 3, 4 (Jan. 2013), available at: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/csmac_wg-2_final_report_jan-
4-2012.pdf; CSMAC Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, Working Group 5: 1755-1850 MHz Airborne
Operations (CSMAC WG-5 Report) (Sept. 2013), available at:
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/wg5_1755-1850_final_reportl-09-16-2013.pdf; See NTIA, An
Assessment of the Near-Term Viability of Accommodating Wireless Broadband Systems in the 1675-1710 MHz,
1755-1780 MHz, 3500-3650 MHz, 4200-4220 MHz, and 4380-4400 MHz Bands at 3-25 – 3-29 (rel. October
2010), available at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/fasttrackevaluation_11152010.pdf.
144 Currently, Virgin Atlantic disables its Airborne Access System AAS service within 250 miles of U.S. airspace.
See supra Section II.C. We also invite commenters to provide technical studies demonstrating what is sufficient to
prevent harmful interference in the 1755-1850 MHz band.
145 See Amendment of the Commission's Rules with Regard to Commercial Operations in the 1695-1710 MHz,
1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz Bands, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, GN Docket No. 13-185, 28 FCC
Rcd 11479 at 11495-96 and 11512-15, ¶¶ 32-34 and 73-79 (2013).
146 See, e.g., 47 C.F.R. §§ 2.106 and notes 338, 339 and 385 (addressing limitations on aeronautical use of the WCS
Band and ban on aeronautical mobile use of BRS/EBS Band).
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for systems designed for international flights to switch to authorized non-federal frequency bands in
United States airspace.
4.

Applicability to Non-U.S.-Registered Aircraft Operating in U.S. Airspace

64.
Non-U.S.-registered aircraft with Airborne Access Systems currently turn off airborne
mobile communications services before entering U.S. airspace.147 We seek comment on whether it is in
the public interest to allow aircraft authorized by a foreign government to provide mobile
communications services to continue operating its Airborne Access System within U.S. airspace and
thereby provide uninterrupted airborne mobile communications services to its passengers.
65.
We also seek comment on the appropriate regulatory framework for the operation of
Airborne Access Systems on non-U.S.-registered aircraft within U.S. territory. The ability of a foreign
entity to use spectrum or operate radio equipment within the United States stems from rights derived from
international agreements, or from direct authorization from the United States. Accordingly, in
determining how such use may be permitted, we must take several factors into consideration, including
the applicability of international agreements to which we are a party.
66.
The United States is a signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation
(Chicago Convention), which provides a mechanism for recognizing foreign licenses.148 Under the
Chicago Convention, aircraft registered to a member country may use radio transmitter equipment over
another country’s territory provided that the transmitter is licensed by the country that registered the
aircraft and that said use is in compliance with the regulations of the country over which the aircraft is
flying.149 The Chicago Convention also provides that licenses issued by member nations must be equal to
or above the minimum standards adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).150 As
we interpret the Chicago Convention, foreign-registered aircraft do not currently have authority to operate
an Airborne Access System within U.S. airspace as such use is not currently permitted under the
Commission’s rules.
67.
Further, to the extent the Commission adopts rules to permit mobile communications
services on aircraft, a non-U.S.-registered carrier may operate an Airborne Access System that complies
with such rules. Moreover, we are not aware that ICAO has adopted or intends to adopt standards and
recommended practices for the operation of Airborne Access System pursuant to the Chicago

147 See, e.g., Jansen, supra note 43; Rachel Sang-hee Han, supra note 47; Virgin Atlantic allows in-flight calls, supra
note 47; AeroMobile - Where does it work?, supra note 43.
148 Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed Dec. 7, 1944, Article 30. The Commission implemented this
Article in the Part 87 regulations concerning aviation services. Section 87.191(a) states: “Aircraft of member States
of the International Civil Aviation Organization may carry and operate radio transmitters in the United States
airspace only if a license has been issued by the State in which the aircraft is registered and the flight crew is
provided with a radio operator license of the proper class, issued or recognized by the State in which the aircraft is
registered. The use of radio transmitters in the United States airspace must comply with these rules and regulations.”
47 C.F.R. § 87.191(a).
149 By its terms, the Chicago Convention does not prohibit the nation over which the foreign-registered aircraft is
flying from also issuing a license for the transmitter. Therefore, a single Airborne Access System onboard a single
aircraft could have a separate license for each nation through which it passes.
150 ICAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations created in 1944 to promote the safe and orderly development
of international civil aviation throughout the world. It sets standards and regulations necessary for safety, security,
efficiency and regularity of flight, as well as for aviation environmental protection. Contracting States undertake to
adopt and put into operation the standards and recommendations issued by ICAO. Mutual recognition of licenses by
Contracting States is tied to the requirement that licenses be “equal to or above the minimum standards which may
be established from time to time pursuant to this Convention.” Information on how ICAO adopts technical
standards may be found at http://www.icao.int/icao/en/anb/mais/index.html.
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Convention.151 We therefore tentatively conclude that the Chicago Convention is not an independent
source of authorization for foreign airlines to operate an Airborne Access System within U.S. airspace. It
also does not appear that other agreements offer a means by which the United States may recognize the
authority of a foreign-registered aircraft to operate an Airborne Access System. We also are not aware of
any bilateral agreements between the United States and any other administrations that would serve as a
mechanism for allowing foreign-registered aircraft to operate an Airborne Access System over U.S.
airspace.
68.
In light of these considerations, we tentatively conclude that current agreements do not
provide non-U.S.-registered carriers independent authorization to operate Airborne Access Systems in
U.S. airspace. We seek comment on these tentative conclusions. Commenters believing otherwise should
identify the applicable agreement(s) and legal authority under which we may permit such operation. We
also request comment on any other mechanisms that might allow for recognition of an Airborne Access
System authorization issued by another administration.
69.
Assuming that there are no international agreements permitting foreign-registered aircraft
to operate an Airborne Access System within U.S. airspace, we seek comment as to whether the
Commission should directly authorize such use on the same terms that would apply to Airborne Access
System operation onboard domestic aircraft. Specifically, operators of foreign-registered aircraft would
be permitted to apply for an aircraft station license under Part 87 for the purpose of providing access to
airborne mobile communications services to passengers while within U.S. airspace.152 We seek comment
on this proposal, as well as on any alternative licensing approaches. Commenters should discuss the costs
and benefits of this or any alternative proposal. We note that applications for such authorizations would
be subject to the foreign ownership provisions of sections 310(a) and (b) of the Act, just as they apply to
operators of U.S.-registered aircraft.153

D.

Other issues

1.

Service below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet)

70.
As noted previously, the proposed 3,048 meter (10,000 feet) altitude floor for airborne
mobile communications services would minimize the risk of harmful interference with terrestrial
networks and is consistent with FAA regulations and international practices. However, there may be
circumstances where mobile communications services on aircraft operating below 3,048 meters (10,000
feet) would be in the public interest and would not cause harmful interference. We seek comment as to
whether there are circumstances in which mobile communications services on aircraft would not raise the
concerns set forth above (e.g., in low flying, slow moving aircraft) and whether the 3,048 meter (10,000
feet) altitude limit and/or Airborne Access System requirement would be necessary in such cases. For
instance, certain providers of critical public services routinely operate aircraft at altitudes below 3,048
meters (10,000 feet) and may have a need for mobile communications services at these altitudes. These
operators include medical evacuation, police departments, news organizations, and public safety entities.
Could these use cases be accommodated within the proposed rules? What would the appropriate

151 ICAO has stated that “The free circulation and use of radio equipment on board aircraft for the purpose of public
correspondence is not governed by the provisions of the ICAO Convention. Such utilization needs to be regulated
by the relevant national authorities.” ECC, Licensing and operation of GSM base stations on board aircraft, ICAO
Comments on ECC/DEC/(06)07 at 3 (Feb. 2006), available at: http://www.icao.int/safety/acp/ACPWGF/ACP-WG-
F-15/ACP-WGF15-WP04-
ICAO%20comments%20on%20RA6(06)04%20Draft%20Decision%20GSM%20on%20board%20aircraft%20Rev1.
doc.
152 For foreign-registered aircraft, the Part 87 aircraft station license would authorize Airborne Access System
operation only and would not cover other aircraft station functions.
153 See supra ¶ 59.
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regulatory and technical parameters be for the use of mobile communications services on aircraft by these
and other, similarly situated entities?
71.
While we propose to authorize service only above 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) for all
commercial aircraft, we also seek comment generally on the technical viability, safety, and legality of
mobile communications services on aircraft below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) (or other reasonable altitude
limit adopted in this proceeding) for specific purposes on certain types of aircraft. Would operations
below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) be technically viable? Should Airborne Access Systems be permitted to
remain in operation at altitudes below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet)? Would such low altitude operations
help to mitigate the potential for harmful interference from mobile devices into terrestrial mobile
networks? If allowed, would such operations require the permission of terrestrial CMRS licensees? We
emphasize that nothing in this proposal should be read to contradict the FAA’s authority to determine the
proper conditions for operation of PEDs on aircraft.
2.

Voice Service Onboard Aircraft

72.
In response to the 2004 Airborne Mobile NPRM, commenters raised concerns regarding
the use of voice services on airborne aircraft.154 We note that airborne voice service, e.g., 800 MHz Air-
Ground Radiotelephone Service, has been available on many airlines for years, although we understand
that voice service has been little-used. At the time of the Airborne Mobile NPRM proceeding,
commercial wireless was primarily a voice service. Today, commercial mobile services are used much
more heavily for data services and Internet access. We appreciate that some people and organizations
may continue to have concerns about permitting voice services on aircraft. We also note that
international airlines offering airborne mobile voice and data services have not experienced significant
problems related to voice.155 Yet, consistent with our review of our technical rules and commitment to
technological neutrality, our proposal would create an avenue through which airlines may choose to offer
consumers an additional way to access mobile broadband services while in flight.
73.
To be clear, nothing in this proposal would require or ensure the provision of voice
service on airplanes. Individual airlines would determine whether this option would, in fact, be available
to their passengers. The airlines themselves would be free to choose and manage the types of in-flight
data and voice services they provide, subject to applicable FAA and DoT rules or guidelines with respect
to safety and etiquette. These considerations notwithstanding, however, we seek comment on whether it
is appropriate for the Commission to take concerns regarding the use of voice service into account in this
proceeding. Specifically, we seek comment on the operational impacts that may stem from the provision
of voice service, and whether the Commission has any role in addressing such effects. We also recognize
that the provision of wireless services, including, but not limited to, voice onboard aircraft may require
consumer education to ensure that consumers are aware of what FCC rules do and do not permit. We
seek comment on the ways that the Commission can help consumers understand our current rules and any
rules that the Commission may ultimately adopt in this proceeding.
3.

Agreements with Canada and Mexico

74.
We conclude that any Airborne Access System rules we adopt in this proceeding would
limit such operations to U.S. airspace and would require such operations to comply with current and
future international agreements with Mexico and Canada. Until such time as any agreements between the
United States, Mexico and/or Canada can be agreed to for the proposed airborne mobile communications
service, any operations conducted pursuant to rules adopted in this proceeding must not cause harmful

154 See generally comments in Commission WT Docket No. 04-435 and FAA Docket No. FAA-2012-0752. For
example, commenters raised safety and social etiquette concerns. See, e.g,. Transport Workers Union of America
Comments, WT Docket No. 04-435 at 6-8.
155 See FAA, Study on the Use of Cell Phones on Passenger Aircraft, DOT/FAA/AR-12/30, at 1, 8- 9 (July 2012),
available at: http://content.aristotle.com/CEA/PassengerAircraft.pdf.
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interference across the border, and must operate consistent with the terms of the international agreements
currently in force. We also note that it may be necessary to modify any rules adopted in this proceeding
to codify future agreements with Canada and Mexico regarding the aeronautical use of these bands. We
seek comment on these conclusions.
4.

Law Enforcement and Public Safety

75.
While this Notice focuses primarily on the technical parameters and licensing
mechanisms by which we may allow airlines to offer mobile wireless services on aircraft, we recognize
that our proposals may also raise public safety, law enforcement and national security concerns. We note
that wireless service providers are currently obligated to provide assistance to law enforcement agencies
with respect to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).156 Specifically,
Congress enacted CALEA in 1994 in order to preserve the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct
electronic surveillance by requiring that telecommunications carriers and manufacturers of
telecommunications equipment modify and design their equipment, facilities, and services to ensure that
they have necessary surveillance capabilities.157 In addition to telecommunications carriers identified in
CALEA and its legislative history,158 the Commission has concluded that facilities-based broadband
Internet access providers and providers of interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service
would also be deemed to be “telecommunications carriers” for purposes of applying CALEA.159
Accordingly, we propose that any mobile wireless services offered by Airborne Access System operators
would be subject to the provisions of CALEA, regardless of whether such offerings are voice or data
services.
76.
Beyond satisfying CALEA obligations, satellite providers,160 ESAA operators,161 as well
as 800 MHz Air-Ground licensees162 address specific public safety, law enforcement, and national

156 Pub. L.No.103-414, 108 Stat. 4279 (codified as amended in sections of 18 U.S.C. and 47 U.S.C.).
157 See 47 U.S.C. § 1002(a)(1-4). The Commission has subsequently taken several actions to implement CALEA
requirements. See Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act and Broadband Access and Services,
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Declaratory Ruling, ET Docket No.04-295, RM-10865, 19 FCC Rcd 15676,
15678-91, ¶¶ 5-29 (2004) (discussing the history of the Commission’s CALEA implementation actions and orders).
158 A “telecommunications carrier” is defined by CALEA as “a person or entity engaged in the transmission or
switching of wire or electronic communications as a common carrier for hire.” 47 U.S.C. § 1001(8).
Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, CC Docket No. 97-213, Second Report and Order, 15 FCC
Rcd 7105, 7110 (2000). The Second Report and Order noted that the legislative history contains examples of the
types of service providers subject to CALEA: local exchange carriers, interexchange carriers, competitive access
providers, cellular carriers, providers of personal communications services, satellite-based service providers, cable
operators, and electric and other utilities that provide telecommunications services for hire to the public, and any
other wireline or wireless service for hire to the public. Id. at 7111 [other history omitted]. The Communications
Act, as amended, also extends the term to commercial mobile service providers generally. See 47 U.S.C. § 332(d).
159 See Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act and Broadband Access and Services, ET Docket No.
04-295, First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 20 FCC Rcd 14989, 15001, ¶ 24
(2005). CALEA also identifies a telecommunications carrier as “a person or entity engaged in providing wire or
electronic communication switching or transmission service to the extent that the Commission finds that such
service is a replacement for a substantial portion of the local telephone exchange service and that it is in the public
interest to deem such a person or entity to be a telecommunications carrier for purposes of this title.” 47 U.S.C.
§ 1001(8)(B)(ii). The Commission interpreted this provision to encompass facilities-based broadband Internet
access and interconnected VoIP providers.
160 See Boeing Reply Comments in IB Docket Nos. 05-20 and 12-376 at 18-19 (citing numerous examples of the
Commission relying on agreements to address law enforcement concerns).
161 See, e.g., Panasonic Application Narrative at 19, IBFS File No. SES-LIC-20100805-00992 (“Panasonic is
engaged in active discussions with U.S. law enforcement officials regarding lawful interception (“LI”) and network
security functionality to be deployed in the eXConnect System. Panasonic has engaged a CALEA-compliant
(continued….)
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security concerns through individual negotiations with law enforcement agencies. We anticipate that an
entity seeking to provide mobile wireless services through the use of an Airborne Access System would
follow the established process and work diligently with law enforcement agencies to address any public
safety, law enforcement, and national security concerns through individual negotiations and agreements.
77.
We seek comment on whether there are additional measures that the Commission should
take to address in-flight safety and security concerns beyond CALEA obligations and individual
agreements among service providers and law enforcement agencies. While we again emphasize that
issues of onboard security and safety of flight are matters primarily reserved for the FAA, DoT, and the
airlines, there may be measures within our regulatory purview that can be taken to further the
Commission’s interests in preserving and promoting public safety and homeland security. We therefore
request that commenters identify specific public safety, law enforcement and national security-related
concerns that may stem from the Commission’s proposals, and the steps that the Commission could take
to address those concerns.

IV.

CONCLUSION

78.
By this Notice, we propose to harmonize our rules, and allow airlines to provide mobile
communications services on aircraft equipped with Airborne Access Systems at altitudes above 3,048
meters (10,000 feet), consistent with appropriate technical rules. If adopted, these proposals would
facilitate the use of mobile data services onboard aircraft, to the benefit of air travelers in a way that
would not cause harmful interference to terrestrial networks.

V.

PROCEDURAL MATTERS

A.

Filing Requirements

79.
Pursuant to sections 1.415 and 1.419 of the Commission’s rules, interested parties may
file comments and reply comments on or before the dates indicated on the first page of this document.
Comments may be filed using the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). See
Electronic Filing of Documents in Rulemaking Proceedings, 63 FR 24121 (1998).
 Electronic Filers: Comments may be filed electronically using the Internet by accessing
the ECFS: http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs2/.
 Paper Filers: Parties who choose to file by paper must file an original and one copy of
each filing. If more than one docket or rulemaking number appears in the caption of this
proceeding, filers must submit two additional copies for each additional docket or
rulemaking number.
o Filings can be sent by hand or messenger delivery, by commercial overnight
courier, or by first-class or overnight U.S. Postal Service mail. All filings must
be addressed to the Commission’s Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal
Communications Commission.
o All hand-delivered or messenger-delivered paper filings for the Commission’s
(Continued from previous page)
equipment vendor to implement its LI solution, which will be in place before the commencement of commercial
operations. In addition, Panasonic is implementing additional functionality subject to final agreement with U.S. law
enforcement.”); Letter from Carlos Nalda, Esq., Counsel to Panasonic Avionics Corporation, to Marlene H. Dortch,
Secretary, Federal Communications Commission, IB Docket Nos. 05-20 and 12-376, dated June 30, 2012 at 3
(operators “have uniformly engaged in direct consultations with law enforcement to develop appropriate capabilities
consistent with their system characteristics and service offerings.”).
162 Letter from Karis Hastings, Esq., Counsel for Gogo LLC, to Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary, Federal
Communications Commission, in IB Docket Nos. 05-20 and 12-376, July 20, 2012 at 2 (noting that in designing its
terrestrial-based 800 MHz Air-Ground network, Gogo worked closely with law enforcement to incorporate
functionalities and protections that would serve the public interest and national security interests).
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Secretary must be delivered to FCC Headquarters at 445 12th St., SW, Room
TW-A325, Washington, DC 20554. The filing hours are 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
All hand deliveries must be held together with rubber bands or fasteners. Any
envelopes must be disposed of before entering the building.
o Commercial overnight mail (other than U.S. Postal Service Express Mail and
Priority Mail) must be sent to 9300 East Hampton Drive, Capitol Heights, MD
20743.
o U.S. Postal Service first-class, Express, and Priority mail must be addressed to
445 12th Street, SW, Washington DC 20554.
 People with Disabilities: To request materials in accessible formats for people with
disabilities (braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to
fcc504@fcc.gov or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-418-0530
(voice), 202-418-0432 (tty).
80.
For additional information on this proceeding, please contact Amanda Krohn Huetinck of
the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at Amanda.Krohn@fcc.gov.

B.

Ex Parte

Rules

81.
The proceeding this Notice initiates shall be treated as a “permit-but-disclose” proceeding
in accordance with the Commission’s ex parte rules. Persons making ex parte presentations must file a
copy of any written presentation or a memorandum summarizing any oral presentation within two
business days after the presentation (unless a different deadline applicable to the Sunshine period applies).
Persons making oral ex parte presentations are reminded that memoranda summarizing the presentation
must (1) list all persons attending or otherwise participating in the meeting at which the ex parte
presentation was made, and (2) summarize all data presented and arguments made during the
presentation. If the presentation consisted in whole or in part of the presentation of data or arguments
already reflected in the presenter’s written comments, memoranda or other filings in the proceeding, the
presenter may provide citations to such data or arguments in his or her prior comments, memoranda, or
other filings (specifying the relevant page and/or paragraph numbers where such data or arguments can be
found) in lieu of summarizing them in the memorandum. Documents shown or given to Commission
staff during ex parte meetings are deemed to be written ex parte presentations and must be filed
consistent with section 1.1206(b). In proceedings governed by section 1.49(f) or for which the
Commission has made available a method of electronic filing, written ex parte presentations and
memoranda summarizing oral ex parte presentations, and all attachments thereto, must be filed through
the electronic comment filing system available for that proceeding, and must be filed in their native
format (e.g., .doc, .xml, .ppt, searchable .pdf). Participants in this proceeding should familiarize
themselves with the Commission’s ex parte rules.

C.

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

82.
As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act,163 the Commission has prepared an Initial
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) of the possible significant economic impact on a substantial
number of small entities of the proposals addressed in this Notice. The IRFA is set forth in Appendix B.
Written public comments are requested on the IRFA. These comments must be filed in accordance with
the same filing deadlines for comments on the Notice, and they should have a separate and distinct
heading designating them as responses to the IRFA. The Commission’s Consumer and Governmental
Affairs Bureau, Reference Information Center, will send a copy of this Notice, including the IRFA, to the

163 See 5 U.S.C. § 603.
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Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration, in accordance with the Regulatory
Flexibility Act.164

D.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995

83.
This NPRM seeks comment on a potential new or revised information collection
requirement. If the Commission adopts any new or revised information collection requirement, the
Commission will publish a notice in the Federal Register inviting the public to comment on the
requirement, as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Public Law 104-13 (44 U.S.C. 3501-
3520). In addition, pursuant to the Small Business Paperwork Relief Act of 2002, Public Law 107-198,
see 44 U.S.C. 3506(c)(4), the Commission seeks specific comment on how it might “further reduce the
information collection burden for small business concerns with fewer than 25 employees.”

VI.

ORDERING CLAUSES

84.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED THAT, pursuant to the authority contained in sections 1,
4(i), 11, 303(r), 303(y), 308, 309, and 332 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §§
151, 154(i), 161, 303(r), 303(y), 308, 309, and 332, this NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING is
hereby ADOPTED.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Marlene H. Dortch
Secretary

164 See 5 U.S.C. § 603(a).
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APPENDIX A

Proposed Rules

Part 22 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

1. The authority citation for Part 22 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 222, 303, 309, and 332.
2. Section 22.925 is revised to read as follows:
§ 22.925 Airborne Operation of Mobile Devices
Devices using frequencies licensed under this subpart are prohibited from operating onboard airborne
aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.

Part 24 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

1. The authority citation for Part 24 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 301, 302, 303, 309, and 332.
2. Section 24.3 is revised to read as follows:
§ 24.3 Permissible Communications
PCS licensees may provide any mobile communications service on their assigned spectrum. Fixed
services may be provided on a co-primary basis with mobile operations. Broadcasting as defined in the
Communications Act is prohibited. Devices using frequencies licensed under this rule part are prohibited
from operating onboard airborne aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.

Part 27 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

1. The authority citation for Part 27 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 301, 302, 303, 307, 309, 332, 336, and 337 unless otherwise
noted.
2. Section 27.2 is revised to read as follows:
§ 27.2 Permissible Communications
(a) Miscellaneous wireless communications services. Except as provided in paragraph (b), (d), or (e) of
this section and subject to technical and other rules contained in this part, a licensee in the frequency
bands specified in § 27.5 may provide any services for which its frequency bands are allocated, as set
forth in the non-Federal Government column of the Table of Allocations in § 2.106 of this chapter
(column 5).
(e) Devices using frequencies licensed under this rule part are prohibited from operating onboard airborne
aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.

Part 87 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

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1. The authority citation for Part 87 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 303 and 307 (e) unless otherwise noted.
2. New sections 87.205-207 are added to read as follows
AIRBORNE MOBILE SERVICE
§ 87.205 Scope of Service
(a) Aircraft Station Licensees shall be permitted to provide mobile broadband service under this rule
part subject to the following conditions:
(i) mobile broadband services shall be authorized only within aircraft cabins;
(ii) mobile broadband service shall be authorized only over the frequencies designated in
section 87.206;
(iii) Aircraft station licensees must utilize an airborne access system that complies with the
technical rules set forth in section 87.207.
(iv) The Airborne Mobile Service shall be authorized only at altitudes above 3,048 meters
(~10,000) feet. No transmissions shall be authorized over designated frequencies below
this altitude.
§ 87.206 Frequencies
(a) The frequencies 698-757 MHz, 775-787 MHz, SMR spectrum within the bands (806-821 MHz,
851-866 MHz, 896-901 MHz, and 935-940 MHz), 824-849 MHz, 869-894 MHz, 1850-1915
MHz, 1930-1995 MHz, 1710-1755 MHz, 2000-2020 MHz, 2110-2155 MHz, 2180-2200 MHz,
2305-2320 MHz, and 2345-2360 MHz are authorized for airborne in-cabin use consistent with the
requirements and 87.205, et seq.
§ 87.207 Technical Requirements
(a) Airborne access systems on licensed aircraft must:
(i) utilize only frequencies authorized in section 87.206 for the provision of Airborne Mobile
Service;
(ii) manage all in-cabin transmissions from mobile devices transmitting on frequencies listed
in section 87.206;
(iii) prevent in-cabin mobile devices transmitting on frequencies listed in section 87.206 from
operating at power levels sufficient to potentially cause harmful interference to terrestrial
mobile networks;
(iv) ensure that each transmitting component of the airborne access system maintains minimal
emissions, as measured outside the aircraft cabin, to ensure that airborne operations do
not cause harmful interference to terrestrial mobile networks;
(v) otherwise comply with technical rules applicable to terrestrial base stations operating on
the frequencies listed in section 87.206;

Part 90 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

1.
The authority citation for Part 90 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: Sections 4(i), 11, 303(g), 303(r), and 332 (c)(7) of the Communications Act of
1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. 154(i), 161, 303(g), 303(r), 332(c)(7).
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2. Section 90.423 is revised to read as follows:
§ 90.423 Airborne Operation of Mobile Devices
Devices using frequencies licensed under this rule part are prohibited from operating onboard airborne
aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.
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APPENDIX B

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

I.

INITIAL REGULATORY FLEXIBILITY ANALYSIS

1.
As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980, as amended (RFA),1 the
Commission has prepared this Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) of the possible significant
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities by the policies and rules proposed in this
Notice. Written comments are requested on this IRFA. Comments must be identified as responses to the
IRFA and must be filed by the deadlines for comments on the Notice. The Commission will send a copy
of the Notice, including this IRFA, to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business
Administration (SBA).2 In addition, the Notice and IRFA (or summaries thereof) will be published in the
Federal Register.3

A.

Need for, and Objectives of, the Proposed Rules.

2.
By this Notice, we propose to allow airlines (or more specifically, station licensees) to
provide mobile communications services on aircraft (mobile communications services on aircraft).
Currently, the Commission’s rules prohibit airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz cellular band
and restrict use in the 800 MHz SMR band, while the rules governing other commercial mobile spectrum
bands are silent. Since a previous Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that sought to address these restrictions
was terminated in 2007, more than forty jurisdictions, including the European Union and Australia, have
authorized the use of mobile communications services on aircraft. To the best of our knowledge, there
have been no reports of these services causing any harmful interference to terrestrial networks. We
believe that it is in the public interest to bring the benefits of mobile communications services on aircraft
to domestic consumers and that the proposals set forth in this Notice further our recent efforts to expand
access to airborne broadband services.
3.
We propose to allow mobile communications services on aircraft by: (1) removing
existing restrictions on airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz cellular and 800 MHz SMR bands;
(2) harmonizing regulations governing the operation of mobile devices on airborne aircraft across all
commercial mobile spectrum bands; and (3) implementing a comprehensive regulatory framework to
promote airborne mobile data use using all commercial mobile spectrum bands.
4.
Under our proposal, we would add the authority to provide mobile communications
services on aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands (as categorized below) to the existing
Part 87 aircraft station licenses of domestic airlines. Alternatively, the Notice seeks comment on whether
we should permit inflight mobile wireless service using an alternative authorization method. Alternatives
could include: 1) non-exclusive licenses by which applicants, an airline or other entity, could file to
provide airborne wireless services; 2) terrestrial license leases whereby an airline could provide service
through lease agreements with mobile wireless service licensees; 3) auctioned “sky licenses” covering
nationwide or geographic markets that would be assigned pursuant to competitive bidding, or; 4)
unlicensed use or license-by-rule whereby eligible entities would be permitted to operate without the
Commission issuing individual licenses.
5.
We propose to allow mobile communications services on aircraft only if managed by an
Airborne Access System (Airborne Access System), which would control the emissions of onboard
portable electronic devices by requiring them to remain at or near their lowest transmitting power level

1 See 5 U.S.C. § 603. The RFA, see 5 U.S.C. §§ 601-612, has been amended by the Small Business Regulatory
Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA), Pub. L. No. 104-121, Title II, 110 Stat. 857 (1996).
2 See 5 U.S.C. § 603(a).
3 See id.
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and prevent such devices from causing harmful interference to terrestrial networks. We also propose to
limit mobile communications services on aircraft to aircraft travelling at altitudes above 3,048 meters
(10,000 feet).

B.

Legal Basis.

6.
This action is taken under Sections 1, 4(i), 11, and 303(r) and (y), 308, 309, and 332 of
the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §§ 151, 154(i), 161, 303(r), (y), 308, 309, and
332.

C.

Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities to Which the Proposed
Rules Will Apply.

7.
The RFA directs agencies to provide a description of, and where feasible, an estimate of
the number of small entities that may be affected by the proposed rules, if adopted herein.4 The RFA
generally defines the term “small entity” as having the same meaning as the terms “small business,”
“small organization,” and “small governmental jurisdiction.”5 In addition, the term “small business” has
the same meaning as the term “small business concern” under the Small Business Act.6 A “small
business concern” is one which: (1) is independently owned and operated; (2) is not dominant in its field
of operation; and (3) satisfies any additional criteria established by the SBA.7
8.
In addition, we have adopted criteria for defining three groups of small businesses for
purposes of determining their eligibility for special provisions such as bidding credits. We have defined a
small business as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross
revenues not exceeding $40 million for the preceding three years.8 A very small business is defined as an
entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues that are not
more than $15 million for the preceding three years.9 The SBA has approved these small size standards.10
9.
In the following paragraphs, we further describe and estimate the number and type of
small entities that may be affected by the proposals set forth in the Notice. If our proposals are adopted,
small airlines that choose to implement mobile communications services on aircraft could be required to
modify their existing Part 87 licenses and comply with new regulatory requirements, including as to the
mobile communications services on aircraft equipment.11 Such compliance would involve, to varying
degrees, the services described below. Under our proposals, an airline would be permitted to negotiate
commercial agreements with the entities described in the following. It is possible that an airline could

4 5 U.S.C. § 604(a)(3).
5 5 U.S.C. § 601(6).
6 5 U.S.C. § 601(3) (incorporating by reference the definition of “small business concern” in the Small Business Act,
15 U.S.C. § 632). Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 601(3), the statutory definition of a small business applies “unless an
agency, after consultation with the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration and after opportunity
for public comment, establishes one or more definitions of such term which are appropriate to the activities of the
agency and publishes such definition(s) in the Federal Register.”
7 15 U.S.C. § 632.
8 47 C.F.R. § 1.2110(f)(2)(ii).
9 47 C.F.R. § 1.2110(f)(2)(iii).
10 See Letter to Thomas Sugrue, Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Federal Communications
Commission, from Aida Alvarez, Administrator, Small Business Administration, dated August 10, 1999.
11 Aircraft station licensees would be required to file for a modification of their existing aircraft station or fleet
licenses on FCC Form 605 to include the newly designated airborne mobile communications authorization. To the
extent that an aircraft operator does not have an aircraft station license, that aircraft operator would be required to
apply for an aircraft station license using Form 605 in order to operate an Airborne Access System.
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negotiate agreements affecting all communications services listed, or an airline may reach agreements
involving only certain categories.
10.
The Notice also request comment on whether we should permit inflight mobile wireless
services through alternative licensing methodologies. In such cases, any eligible entity (airlines or others)
would be permitted to provide mobile wireless services onboard aircraft. In such cases, the authorized
parties could be any of the service providers listed below. In addition, any device manufacturers that
choose to manufacture devices for mobile communications services on aircraft use will have to ensure
that such devices comply with any rules adopted in this proceeding.
11.

Small Businesses, Small Organizations, and Small Governmental Jurisdictions

. The
proposals set forth in the Notice, may, over time, affect small entities that are not easily categorized at
present. We therefore describe here, at the outset, three comprehensive, statutory small entity size
standards that encompass entities that could be directly affected by the proposals under consideration. As
of 2009, small businesses represented 99.9% of the 27.5 million businesses in the United States,
according to the SBA. Additionally, a “small organization” is generally “any not-for-profit enterprise
which is independently owned and operated and is not dominant in its field.” Nationwide, as of 2007,
there were approximately 1,621,315 small organizations. Finally, the term “small governmental
jurisdiction” is defined generally as “governments of cities, counties, towns, townships, villages, school
districts, or special districts, with a population of less than fifty thousand.” Census Bureau data for 2007
indicate that there were 89,527 governmental jurisdictions in the United States. We estimate that, of this
total, as many as 88,761 entities may qualify as “small governmental jurisdictions.” Thus, we estimate
that most governmental jurisdictions are small.
12.

Wireless Telecommunications Carriers (except Satellite)

. Since 2007, the SBA has
recognized wireless firms within this new, broad, economic census category.12 Prior to that time, such
firms were within the now-superseded categories of Paging and Cellular and Other Wireless
Telecommunications.13 Under the present and prior categories, the SBA has deemed a wireless business
to be small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees.14 For this category census data2007 show that there were
11,163 establishments that operated for the entire year.15 Of this total, 10,791 establishments had
employment of 999 or fewer employees and 372 had employment of 1000 employees or more.16 Thus,
under this category and the associated small business size standard, the Commission estimates that the
majority of wireless telecommunications carriers (except satellite) are small entities that may be affected
by our proposed action
13.
Similarly, according to Commission data, 413 carriers reported that they were engaged in
the provision of wireless telephony, including cellular service, Personal Communications Service (PCS),
and Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) Telephony services.17 Of these, an estimated 261 have 1,500 or

12 13 C.F.R. § 121.201, NAICS code 517210.
13 U.S. Census Bureau, 2002 NAICS Definitions, 517211 Paging;available at http://www.census.gov/cgibin/
sssd/naics/naicsrch?code=517211&search=2002%20NAICS%20Search; U.S. Census Bureau, 2002 NAICS
Definitions, 517212 Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications available at http://www.census.gov/cgi-
bin/sssd/naics/naicsrch?code=517212&search=2002%20NAICS%20Search. .
14 13 C.F.R. § 121.201, NAICS code 517210 (2007 NAICS). The now-superseded, pre-2007 C.F.R. citations were
13 C.F.R. § 121.201, NAICS codes 517211 and 517212 (referring to the 2002 NAICS).
15 U.S. Census Bureau, Subject Series: Information, Table 5, “Establishment and Firm Size: Employment Size of
Firms for the United States: 2007 NAICS Code 517210” (issued Nov. 2010).
16 Id. Available census data do not provide a more precise estimate of the number of firms that have employment of
1,500 or fewer employees; the largest category provided is for firms with “100 employees or more.”
17 Trends in Telephone Service, at tbl. 5.3.
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fewer employees and 152 have more than 1,500 employees.18 Consequently, the Commission estimates
that approximately half or more of these firms can be considered small. Thus, using available data, we
estimate that the majority of wireless firms can be considered small.
14.

Wireless Telephony

. Wireless telephony includes cellular, personal communications
services, and specialized mobile radio telephony carriers. As noted, the SBA has developed a small
business size standard for Wireless Telecommunications Carriers (except Satellite).19 Under the SBA
small business size standard, a business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees.20 According to
Trends in Telephone Service data, 413 carriers reported that they were engaged in wireless telephony.21
Of these, an estimated 261 have 1,500 or fewer employees and 152 have more than 1,500 employees.22
Therefore, more than half of these entities can be considered small.
15.

Cellular Licenses

. The Cellular Radiotelephone (Cellular) Service is in the 824 – 849
and 869 – 894 MHz spectrum range. The most common use of cellular spectrum is mobile voice and data
services, including cell phone, text messaging, and Internet.
16.
The Commission adopted initial rules governing allocation of spectrum for commercial
Cellular service, including the establishment of two channel blocks (Blocks A and B), in 1981.23 To issue
cellular licenses, the FCC divided the U.S. into 734 geographic markets called Cellular Market Areas
(CMAs) and divided the 40 megahertz of spectrum into two, 20 megahertz amounts referred to as channel
blocks; channel block A and channel block B. A single license for the A block and the B block were made
available in each market. The B block of spectrum was awarded to a local wireline carrier that provided
landline telephone service in the CMA. The A block was awarded to non-wireline carriers. The
wireline/non-wireline distinction for cellular licenses no longer exists.
17.
The licensee of the initial license was provided a five-year period to expand coverage
within the CMA. The area timely built out during that five-year period became the licensee’s initial
Cellular Geographic Service Area (CGSA), while any area not built out by the five-year mark was
automatically relinquished for re-licensing on a site-by-site basis by the Commission.
18.
The Commission established a two phase licensing approach for areas that reverted back
to the FCC. Phase I was a one-time process that started as soon as the five-year period ended and allowed
parties to file an application to operate a new cellular system or expand an existing cellular system. Phase
I licensing is no longer available.

Phase

II is an on-going process that allows parties to apply for unserved
areas after Phase I ended. At this point, all cellular licensing is in Phase II. On June 4, 2002, the
Commission completed the auction of three cellular Rural Service Area licenses.24 Three winning bidders
won a total of 3 licenses in this auction. On June 17, 2008, the Commission completed the closed auction
of one unserved service area. The auction concluded with one provisionally winning bid for the unserved

18 Id.
19 13 C.F.R. § 121.201, NAICS code 517210.
20 Id.
21 FCC, Wireline Competition Bureau, Industry Analysis and Technology Division, Trends in Telephone Service at
Table 5.3, Page 5-5, available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-301823A1.pdf (Sept.
2010) (Trends in Telephone Service). This source uses data that are current as of October 13, 2008.
22 Trends in Telephone Service at Table 5.3, Page 5-5.
23 See generally An Inquiry Into the Use of the Bands 825-845 MHz and 870-890 MHz for Cellular
Communications Systems; and Amendment of Parts 2 and 22 of the Commission’s Rules Relative to Cellular
Communications Systems, Report and Order, CC Docket No. 79-318, 86 F.C.C.2d 469 (1981).
24 See Cellular Rural Service Areas Auction Closes; Winning Bidders Announced, Public Notice, 17 FCC Rcd
10582 (2002).
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area totaling $25,002.25 No bidders in either auction received small business bidding credits.
19.

Broadband Personal Communications Service

. The broadband personal
communications services (PCS) spectrum is divided into six frequency blocks designated A through F,
and the Commission has held auctions for each block. The Commission initially defined a “small
business” for C- and F-Block licenses as an entity that has average gross revenues of $40 million or less
in the three previous years.26 For Block F licenses, an additional small business size standard for “very
small business” was added and is defined as an entity that, together with its affiliates, has average gross
revenues of not more than $15 million for the preceding three years.27 These small business size
standards, in the context of broadband PCS auctions, have been approved by the SBA.28 No small
businesses within the SBA-approved small business size standards bid successfully for licenses in Blocks
A and B. There were 90 winning bidders that claimed small business status in the first two C Block
auctions.29 A total of 93 bidders that claimed “small” and “very small” business status won licenses in the
first auction of the D, E, and F Blocks.30 In 1999, the Commission completed a subsequent auction of C,
D, E, and F Block licenses.31 Of the 57 winning bidders in that auction, 48 claimed small business status
and won 277 licenses. 32
20.
In 2001, the Commission completed the auction of 422 C and F Block Broadband PCS
licenses (Auction 35). Of the 35 winning bidders in that auction, 29 claimed small or very small
businesses status.33 Subsequent events concerning that Auction, including judicial and agency
determinations, resulted in only a portion of those C and F Block licenses being available for grant. The
Commission completed an auction of 188 C Block licenses and 21 F Block licenses in 2005. Of the 24
winning bidders in that auction, 16 claimed small business status and won 156 licenses. 34 In 2007, the
Commission completed an auction of licenses in the A, C, and F Blocks.35 Of the 12 winning bidders in
that auction, five claimed small business status and won 18 licenses.36 Most recently, in 2008, the

25 See Auction Of Cellular Unserved Service Area License Closes; Winning Bidder Announced for Auction 77,
Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 9501 (2008).
26 See Amendment of Parts 20 and 24 of the Commission’s Rules – Broadband PCS Competitive Bidding and the
Commercial Mobile Radio Service Spectrum Cap et al., WT Docket No. 96-59, Report and Order, 11 FCC Rcd
7824, 7850–52 ¶¶ 57–60 (1996) (PCS Report and Order); see also 47 C.F.R. § 24.720(b).
27 See PCS Report and Order, 11 FCC Rcd at 7852 ¶ 60.
28 See Alvarez Letter 1998.
29 See Entrepreneurs’ C Block Auction Closes, Public Notice, DA 96-716 (1996); Entrepreneurs C Block Reauction
Closes, Public Notice, 11 FCC Rcd 8183 (1996).
30 See Broadband PCS, D, E and F Block Auction Closes, Public Notice, Doc. No. 89838 (rel. Jan. 14, 1997).
31 See C, D, E, and F Block Broadband PCS Auction Closes, Public Notice, 14 FCC Rcd 6688 (1999). Before
Auction No. 22, the Commission established a very small standard for the C Block to match the standard used for F
Block. Amendment of the Commission’s Rules Regarding Installment Payment Financing for Personal
Communications Services (PCS) Licensees, WT Docket No. 97-82, Fourth Report and Order, 13 FCC Rcd 15,743,
15,768 ¶ 46 (1998).
32 See C, D, E, and F Block Broadband PCS Auction Closes, Public Notice, 14 FCC Rcd 6688 (1999).
33 See C and F Block Broadband PCS Auction Closes; Winning Bidders Announced, Public Notice, 16 FCC Rcd
2339 (2001).
34 See Broadband PCS Spectrum Auction Closes; Winning Bidders Announced for Auction No. 58, Public Notice,
20 FCC Rcd 3703 (2005).
35 See Auction of Broadband PCS Spectrum Licenses Closes; Winning Bidders Announced for Auction No. 71,
Public Notice, 22 FCC Rcd 9247 (2007) (Auction No. 71 Public Notice).
36 Auction No. 71 Public Notice, 22 FCC Rcd 9247.
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Commission completed the auction of C, D, E, and F Block Broadband PCS licenses.37 Of the eight
winning bidders for Broadband PCS licenses in that auction, six claimed small business status and won 14
licenses.38
21.

Advanced Wireless Services

. In 2006, the Commission conducted its first auction of
Advanced Wireless Services licenses in the 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz bands (AWS-1),
designated as Auction 66.39 For the AWS-1 bands, the Commission has defined a “small business” as an
entity with average annual gross revenues for the preceding three years not exceeding $40 million, and a
“very small business” as an entity with average annual gross revenues for the preceding three years not
exceeding $15 million.40 In Auction 66, 31 winning bidders identified themselves as very small
businesses and won 142 licenses.41 Twenty-six of the winning bidders identified themselves as small
businesses and won 73 licenses.42 In a subsequent 2008 auction, the Commission offered 35 AWS-1
licenses.43 Four winning bidders identifying themselves as very small businesses won 17 licenses, and
three winning bidders identifying themselves as a small business won five AWS-1 licenses. 44
22.

Lower 700 MHz Band Licenses

. The Commission previously adopted criteria for
defining three groups of small businesses for purposes of determining their eligibility for special
provisions such as bidding credits.45 The Commission defined a “small business” as an entity that,
together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues not exceeding $40
million for the preceding three years.46 A “very small business” is defined as an entity that, together with
its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues that are not more than $15 million for
the preceding three years.47 Additionally, the Lower 700 MHz Service had a third category of small
business status for Metropolitan/Rural Service Area (MSA/RSA) licenses —“entrepreneur”— which is
defined as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues
that are not more than $3 million for the preceding three years.48 The SBA approved these small size

37 See Auction of AWS-1 and Broadband PCS Licenses Closes; Winning Bidders Announced for Auction 78, AU
Docket No. 08-46, Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 7496 (2008) (Auction No. 78 Public Notice).
38 Auction No. 78 Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 7496 .
39 See Auction of Advanced Wireless Services Licenses Scheduled for June 29, 2006; Notice and Filing
Requirements, Minimum Opening Bids, Upfront Payments and Other Procedures for Auction No. 66, AU Docket
No. 06-30, Public Notice, 21 FCC Rcd 4562 (2006).
40 See Service Rules for Advanced Wireless Services in the 1.7 GHz and 2.1 GHz Bands, WT Docket No. 02-353,
Report and Order, 18 FCC Rcd 25162, App. B (2003), modified by Service Rules for Advanced Wireless Services
In the 1.7 GHz and 2.1 GHz Bands, Order on Reconsideration, 20 FCC Rcd 14058, App. C (2005).
41 See Auction of Advanced Wireless Services Licenses Closes; Winning Bidders Announced for Auction No. 66,
Public Notice, 21 FCC Rcd 10521 (2006) (Auction No. 66 Public Notice).
42 See Auction No. 66 Public Notice, 21 FCC Rcd 10521.
43 See Auction of AWS-1 and Broadband PCS Licenses Rescheduled for August 13, 2008; Notice and Filing
Requirements, Minimum Opening Bids, Upfront Payments, and Other Procedures for Auction 78, AU Docket No.
08-46, Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 7496, 7499. Auction 78 also included an auction of broadband PCS licenses.
44 See Auction of AWS-1 and Broadband PCS Licenses Closes, Winning Bidders Announced for Auction 78, Down
Payments Due September 9, 2008, FCC Forms 601 and 602 Due September 9, 2008, Final Payments Due
September 23, 2008, Ten-Day Petition to Deny Period, Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 12749, 12749-65 (2008).
45 See Reallocation and Service Rules for the 698-746 MHz Spectrum Band (Television Channels 52-59), GN
Docket No. 01-74, Report and Order, 17 FCC Rcd 1022 (2002) (Channels 52-59 Report and Order).
46 See id. at 1087-88 ¶ 172.
47 See id. at 1087-88 ¶ 172.
48 See id. at 1088, ¶ 173.
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standards.49
23.
An auction of 740 licenses was conducted in 2002 (one license in each of the 734
MSAs/RSAs and one license in each of the six Economic Area Groupings (EAGs). Of the 740 licenses
available for auction, 484 licenses were won by 102 winning bidders. Seventy-two of the winning
bidders claimed small business, very small business, or entrepreneur status and won a total of 329
licenses. 50 A second auction commenced on May 28, 2003, closed on June 13, 2003, and included 256
licenses.51 Seventeen winning bidders claimed small or very small business status and won 60 licenses,
and nine winning bidders claimed entrepreneur status and won 154 licenses.52 In 2005, the Commission
completed an auction of 5 licenses in the lower 700 MHz band (Auction 60). All three winning bidders
claimed small business status.
24.
In 2007, the Commission reexamined its rules governing the 700 MHz band in the 700
MHz Second Report and Order.53 An auction of A, B and E block licenses in the Lower 700 MHz band
was held in 2008.54 Twenty winning bidders claimed small business status. Thirty three winning bidders
claimed very small business status.
25.

Upper 700 MHz Band Licenses

. In the 700 MHz Second Report and Order, the
Commission revised its rules regarding Upper 700 MHz band licenses.55 In 2008, the Commission
conducted Auction 73 in which C and D block licenses in the Upper 700 MHz band were available.56
Three winning bidders claimed very small business status.
26.

Specialized Mobile Radio

. The Commission adopted small business size standards for
the purpose of determining eligibility for bidding credits in auctions of Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR)
geographic area licenses in the 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands. The Commission defined a “small
business” as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross
revenues not exceeding $15 million for the preceding three years.57 The Commission defined a “very
small business” as an entity that together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross
revenues not exceeding $3 million for the preceding three years.58 The SBA has approved these small

49 See Letter from Aida Alvarez, Administrator, SBA, to Thomas Sugrue, Chief, WTB, FCC (Aug. 10, 1999)
(Alvarez Letter 1999).
50 See Lower 700 MHz Band Auction Closes, Public Notice, 17 FCC Rcd 17272 (2002).
51 See Lower 700 MHz Band Auction Closes, Public Notice, 18 FCC Rcd 11873 (2003).
52 See Lower 700 MHz Band Auction Closes, Public Notice, 18 FCC Rcd 11873 (2003).
53 Service Rules for the 698-746, 747-762 and 777-792 MHz Band, WT Docket No. 06-150, Revision of the
Commission’s Rules to Ensure Compatibility with Enhanced 911 Emergency Calling Systems, CC Docket No. 94-
102, Section 68.4(a) of the Commission’s Rules Governing Hearing Aid-Compatible Telephone, WT Docket No.
01-309, Biennial Regulatory Review – Amendment of Parts 1, 22, 24, 27, and 90 to Streamline and Harmonize
Various Rules Affecting Wireless Radio Services, WT Docket No. 03-264, Former Nextel Communications, Inc.
Upper700 MHz Guard Band Licenses and Revisions to Part 27 of the Commission’s Rules, WT Docket No. 06-169,
Implementing a Nationwide, Broadband Interoperable Public Safety Network in the 700 MHz Band, PS Docket No.
06-229, Development of Operational, Technical and Spectrum Requirements for Meeting Federal, State, and Local
Public Safety Communications Requirements Through the Year 2010, WT Docket No. 96-86, Second Report and
Order
, 22 FCC Rcd 15289 (2007) (700 MHz Second Report and Order).
54 See Auction of 700 MHz Band Licenses Closes, Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 4572 (2008) (700 MHz Auction
Public Notice
).
55 700 MHz Second Report and Order, 22 FCC Rcd 15289.
56 See 700 MHz Auction Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 4572.
57 47 C.F.R. §§ 90.810, 90.814(b), 90.912.
58 47 C.F.R. §§ 90.810, 90.814(b), 90.912.
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business size standards for both the 800 MHz and 900 MHz SMR Service.59 The first 900 MHz SMR
auction was completed in 1996. Sixty bidders claiming that they qualified as small businesses under the
$15 million size standard won 263 licenses in the 900 MHz SMR band. In 2004, the Commission held a
second auction of 900 MHz SMR licenses and three winning bidders identifying themselves as very small
businesses won 7 licenses.60 The auction of 800 MHz SMR licenses for the upper 200 channels was
conducted in 1997. Ten bidders claiming that they qualified as small or very small businesses under the
$15 million size standard won 38 licenses for the upper 200 channels.61 A second auction of 800 MHz
SMR licenses was conducted in 2002 and included 23 BEA licenses. One bidder claiming small business
status won five licenses.62
27.
The auction of the 1,053 800 MHz SMR licenses for the General Category channels was
conducted in 2000. Eleven bidders who won 108 licenses for the General Category channels in the 800
MHz SMR band qualified as small or very small businesses .63 In an auction completed in 2000, a total of
2,800 Economic Area licenses in the lower 80 channels of the 800 MHz SMR service were awarded.64 Of
the 22 winning bidders, 19 claimed small or very small business status and won 129 licenses. Thus,
combining all three auctions, 41 winning bidders for geographic licenses in the 800 MHz SMR band
claimed to be small businesses.
28.
In addition, there are numerous incumbent site-by-site SMR licensees and licensees with
extended implementation authorizations in the 800 and 900 MHz bands. We do not know how many
firms provide 800 MHz or 900 MHz geographic area SMR pursuant to extended implementation
authorizations, nor how many of these providers have annual revenues not exceeding $15 million. One
firm has over $15 million in revenues. In addition, we do not know how many of these firms have 1500
or fewer employees.65 We assume, for purposes of this analysis, that all of the remaining existing
extended implementation authorizations are held by small entities, as that small business size standard is
approved by the SBA.
29.

Wireless Communications Services

. This service can be used for fixed, mobile,
radiolocation, and digital audio broadcasting satellite uses. The Commission defined “small business” for
the wireless communications services (WCS) auction as an entity with average gross revenues of $40
million for each of the three preceding years, and a “very small business” as an entity with average gross
revenues of $15 million for each of the three preceding years.66 The SBA approved these definitions.67
30.
The Commission conducted an auction of geographic area licenses in the WCS service in
1997. In the auction, seven bidders that qualified as very small business entities won licenses, and one
bidder that qualified as a small business entity won a license.

59 See Alvarez Letter 1999.
60 See 900 MHz Specialized Mobile Radio Service Spectrum Auction Closes: Winning Bidders Announced, Public
Notice
, 19 FCC Rcd 3921 (2004).
61 See Correction to Public Notice DA 96-586 FCC Announces Winning Bidders in the Auction of 1020 Licenses to
Provide 900 MHz SMR in Major Trading Areas, Public Notice, 18 FCC Rcd 18367 (1996).
62 See Multi-Radio Service Auction Closes, Public Notice, 17 FCC Rcd 1446 (2002).
63 See 800 MHz Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) Service General Category (851-854 MHz) and Upper Band (861-
865 MHz) Auction Closes; Winning Bidders Announced, Public Notice, 15 FCC Rcd 17162 (2000).
64 See 800 MHz SMR Service Lower 80 Channels Auction Closes; Winning Bidders Announced, Public Notice, 16
FCC Rcd 1736 (2000).
65 See generally 13 C.F.R. § 121.201, NAICS code 517210.
66 Amendment of the Commission’s Rules to Establish Part 27, the Wireless Communications Service (WCS), GN
Docket No. 96-228, Report and Order, 12 FCC Rcd 10785, 10879 ¶ 194 (1997).
67 See Alvarez Letter 1998.
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31.

Radio and Television Broadcasting and Wireless Communications Equipment

Manufacturing

. The Census Bureau defines this category as follows: “This industry comprises
establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing radio and television broadcast and wireless
communications equipment. Examples of products made by these establishments are: transmitting and
receiving antennas, cable television equipment, GPS equipment, pagers, cellular phones, mobile
communications equipment, and radio and television studio and broadcasting equipment.” The SBA has
developed a small business size standard for firms in this category, which is: all such firms having 750 or
fewer employees.68 According to Census Bureau data for 2007, there were a total of 939 establishments
in this category that operated for the entire year.69 Of this total, 912 had employment of less than 500,
and an additional 27 had employment of 500 or more. Thus, under this size standard, the majority of
firms can be considered small.
32.

Scheduled Passenger Air Transportation

. Air transportation entities, specifically
airlines, are implicated only to the extent that the Commission adopts the proposal to permit airlines to
provide mobile wireless services. This proposal would give airlines the choice of whether to enable
mobile communications services using an Airborne Access System, as well as the specific services to
enable. All elements of the Airborne Access Systems and any permissible airborne mobile devices would
be subject to applicable FAA and DoT rules and approval procedures.70
33.
The Census Bureau defines this category as follows: This U.S. industry comprises
establishments primarily engaged in providing air transportation of passengers or passengers and freight
over regular routes and on regular schedules. Establishments in this industry operate flights even if
partially loaded. Scheduled air passenger carriers including commuter, and helicopter carriers (except
scenic and sightseeing) are included in this industry.71 The SBA has developed a size standard for this
industry, which is, all establishments having 1,500 or fewer employees.72 According to Census Bureau
information for 2007, 2,569 establishments operated in that year. Of that number, 1,742 operated with
more than 1,000 employees.73 Based on this data, we estimate that 827, or approximately 31 percent of
these establishments, are small. However, it must be understood that since use of the technology
necessary to provide mobile communications services on aircraft is permissive rather than compulsory, no
data are available to indicate what percentage of all such passenger-carrying airlines establishments will
use this technology after their Part 87 licenses are modified. Accordingly, the Commission cannot project
at this time what percentage of all such licensees will be small passenger air transportation
establishments.

D.

Description of Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance
Requirements.

34.
Under the Commission’s proposal, all Airborne Access System devices must comply
with technical and operational requirements, including: Measures that may be taken to limit power
include, but are not necessarily limited to, mobile power restrictions, aircraft picocell power restrictions,

68 13 C.F.R. § 121.201, NAICS code 334220.
69 U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 Economic Census, Sector 51, 2007 NAICS code 334220 (rel. Oct. 20, 2009),
http://www.census.gov/econ/industry/ec07/a334220.htm.
70 We note that any FAA actions related to the issues in this proceeding, such as necessary certification and approval
of equipment, are outside the Commission’s scope, and we emphasize our commitment to working closely with the
FAA in areas over which it has more appropriate jurisdiction.
71 See http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/sssd/naics/naicsrch?code=481111&search=2007 NAICS Search.
72 13 C.F.R. § 121.201, NAICS Code 481111.
73 See http://
factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ECN_2007_US_48SSSZ2&prodType=
table
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network control unit power and/or technology limitations, altitude restrictions, and methods to prevent an
airborne mobile phone from accessing the ground-based commercial mobile networks.
35.
While our proposals would require small airline businesses to modify their existing Part
87 licenses if they want to provide mobile communications services on aircraft, airlines are not required
to install and operate mobile communications services on aircraft Licensees would be permitted to
contract with third parties to install equipment for or offer mobile communications services on aircraft. In
addition, modifying existing aircraft fleet or station licenses to include proposed mobile communications
services on aircraft use should not impose significant administrative burdens on airlines, and they would
have the opportunity for an additional revenue stream. On balance, this would constitute a significant
benefit for small business.

E.

Steps Taken to Minimize Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities, and
Significant Alternatives Considered

36.
The RFA requires an agency to describe any significant, specifically small business,
alternatives that it has considered in developing its approach, which may include the following four
alternatives (among others): (1) the establishment of differing compliance or reporting requirements or
timetables that take into account the resources available to small entities; (2) the clarification,
consolidation, or simplification of compliance or reporting requirements under the rule for small entities;
(3) the use of performance, rather than design, standards; and (4) an exemption from coverage of the rule,
or any part thereof, for small entities.74
37.
In the Notice, the Commission proposes that domestic aircraft operators that want to offer
mobile communications services on aircraft be required to file for a modification of their existing aircraft
station or fleet licenses to include the newly designated use. Also, terrestrial commercial mobile
providers would have the option of entering into permissive commercial contracts with airlines to provide
access to wireless subscriber services.
38.
The Notice specifically solicits alternative licensing proposals, especially those that
would not incur significant and undue adverse impacts on small entities. We also specifically solicit
comment regarding the affect our proposals may have on small business entities that may lack the
financial and technical resources necessary to deploy mobile communications services on aircraft. We
seek comment on factors that may minimize any undue impacts on parties, including small and very small
businesses, that may be affected by our proposals. For example, we request comment on whether our
proposals have a disproportionate financial impact on small businesses, e.g. smaller air carriers as
compared to larger entities, e.g. large airlines. Will our proposals affect the ability of small businesses to
compete with larger entities that may more easily afford to deploy an Airborne Access System? If so, we
request comment on whether there are factors that could offset such impact. For example, could a small
business enter into business agreements with other entities that would make the provision of mobile
communications services more feasible for such entities? We seek comment on how to lessen potential
burdens on these small carriers, including any factors or arrangements that could make the provision of
mobile communications services more practical for small entities.

F.

Federal Rules that May Duplicate, Overlap or Conflict with the Proposed Rules.

39.
14 C.F.R. §§ 91.21, 121.306, 125.204, and 135.144.

74 5 U.S.C. § 603 (c)(1)-(4).
44

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

STATEMENT OF

CHAIRMAN TOM WHEELER

Re

:

Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft,

Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, WT Docket 13-301.

Today’s proposal to remove outdated rules and expand access to mobile wireless services during
air travel is pro-free market, pro-competition, pro-consumer, pro-technology, and de-regulatory. It has
also garnered a great deal of attention and been widely misunderstood.
Let me say up front that, I get it. I don’t want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000
feet any more than anyone else. So then why are we still moving forward with this item?
To answer that question, let’s look at what this proposal does and does NOT do.
First off, today’s action represents the beginning of a process to collect information and consumer
input. As always, we will review input from the public before taking any final action.
Next, the status quo requirement that cellphones may not be used in-flight would be retained. The
prohibition, in fact, would be explicitly expanded. The current rule applies only to phones operating on
the 800MHz frequency band and ignores all other cellular frequencies. This regulatory inconsistency is
poor policy.
The rule change on which we seek comment would extend that prohibition to all frequency bands
unless the aircraft is outfitted with on-board equipment that manages a cellular signal before it has the
potential to interfere with terrestrial networks. Absent such equipment, the ban would remain in effect.
However, if an airline installs new on-board equipment, the FCC’s ban is no longer necessary.
Our engineering belief (on which comment is sought) is that it is technically safe to use the new onboard
equipment to prevent interference with terrestrial networks. The proposal would not require airlines to
either install such equipment, or to offer mobile wireless services aboard their aircraft. Airlines would be
free, within the confines of the rules of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of
Transportation (DoT), to make their own decisions. We simply propose that because new technology
makes the old rule obsolete the FCC should get government out from between airlines and their
passengers. Where there is not a need for regulation, the free market works best to determine the
appropriate outcome.
So how might this play out for consumers? If an airline decides to install an on-board access
system consumers would be permitted to use their existing mobile devices and not be limited to signing
up for WiFi. And the airline would be in total control of what types of mobile services to permit. A
mobile device can send texts and emails, and can surf the Web. A mobile device can also make a voice
call. The technology allows for the differentiation among such services. Thus, airlines would be free to
make their own determination whether to program the new equipment to block voice calls while
permitting texting, email and Web surfing, consistent with the rules of the authorities on aviation safety
and consumer issues: the FAA and the DoT. I am pleased that the DoT today announced that will begin a
process that will look at the possibility of banning in-flight calls.
Today’s proposal is intended to solicit input. It is not a final decision. We look forward to the
technology and consumer input this proposal will generate. We invite all interested parties to participate
and file comments.
Today’s vote is about more than just how you can use your mobile phone on airplanes; it’s about how this
agency should do its job.
45

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

The FCC is the expert agency on communications. It is charged with making technology-based
decisions.
For over 20 years, an FCC rule from the analog era of cell phones has banned the use of mobile
devices on airplanes because of the potential to interfere with terrestrial networks below. But on-board
mobile access technology has been operational internationally with great success for the last five years. In
accord with that experience, and other data, the Commission’s engineers believe that there are no
technical reasons to prohibit such technology to operate in the United States. If the basis for the rule is no
longer valid, then the rule is no longer valid. It’s that simple.
The FCC is sometimes criticized for relying on outdated rules that do not reflect current
technologies or markets. This is a textbook opportunity to do something about eliminating an
unnecessary regulation of the FCC and letting the marketplace function. If we are serious about
eliminating outdated regulations that serve no purpose, the decision is clear. A vote not to proceed on
seeking comments on this issue is a vote against regulatory reform.
Finally, a word on process. Going back to Commissioner McDowell, there have been calls for
increased transparency in the matter in which the FCC presents issues to the public, notably that NPRMs
should include proposed rules. I support the calls for this reform. Such a rebuttable presumption allows
respondents to target their comments. Failure to include a rebuttable presumption from being the focus of
debate would not in the spirit of procedural improvement, and that is why I am pleased this Notice adopts
such an approach.
We need to update this rule for the benefit of consumers and to reflect accurately changing
technical realities. I urge support for an effort to start this process.
46

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

STATEMENT OF

COMMISSIONER MIGNON L. CLYBURN

Re:

Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft,

Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, WT Docket No. 13-301.

Proposing rule changes, so consumers can benefit from advances in communications technology,
is one of the Commission’s core responsibilities. Currently, the FCC prohibits certain cellular
communications services on aircraft to guard against the threat of harmful interference to terrestrial
wireless networks. However, over the past several years, we have seen the development of Airborne
Access Systems that use picocells and a network control unit to minimize potential interference. This
technology has now advanced to the point where providers can offer mobile services on planes while
protecting aviation safety.
The item before us, today, stands to promote competition for mobile broadband services on planes
and creates an environment in which interested air travelers will no longer be left with one option for data
service currently allowed by any particular airline. Allowing other wireless companies to compete with
available inflight Wi-Fi services could lead to lower prices and better quality data options for fliers.
Initiating a rule making, today I believe, is the best way to create an appropriate forum for the wireless
industry to provide thoughtful comment so that our staff can carefully examine the engineering and
licensing issues necessary to deploy competitive options.
As we know all too well, the announcement of this NPRM was met with some strong reaction
based on the belief that these proposals from the FCC would automatically lead to a rash of annoying
telephone conversations on planes during flight. As the item explains, however, our proposed rules
would not require commercial airlines to permit voice calls. In fact, the Airborne Access Systems give
commercial airlines the capacity to prevent voice calls and provide data services only. So I am confident
that commercial airlines will continue to monitor the debate and determine if they should simply continue
to limit their passengers’ use of this technology to only “quiet” or data services.
Now I admit, upfront, that when traveling by rail I strive to be among the first in line for the quiet
car. However, it is my opinion, that this robust debate about mobile phone call etiquette in-flight should
not stop the FCC from removing unnecessary and outdated technical rules that could provide consumers
with safe, competitive options for mobile broadband service while traveling by air. If enough members of
the consuming public oppose voice calls, during flight, I expect the airlines will hear that opposition and
govern themselves accordingly.
I thank John Leibovitz and his team for their presentation and I welcome Roger Sherman as the
new Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.
47

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

CONCURRING STATEMENT OF

COMMISSIONER JESSICA ROSENWORCEL

Re:

Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft

, Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking
,

WT Docket 13-301.

More than two decades ago, the Commission adopted rules prohibiting the use of cell phones on
commercial and private aircraft. These rules, specific to the 800 MHz band, were part of an effort to
promote safety and prevent harmful interference.
Today, the Commission begins a rulemaking to reassess this prohibition. In this rulemaking, we
ask many questions about the use of cellphones on planes, including for voice calls. As a matter of
principle, I believe it is good to ask questions—even the hard ones. So I will concur.
But make no mistake, I do not like this proceeding. Because I believe as public servants we have
a duty to look beyond these four walls and ask ourselves if our actions do in fact serve the public. When
it comes to authorizing voice calls on planes, I think the answer is a resounding no. We are not just
technicians. Whatever bureaucratic desire we have to harmonize our 800 MHz spectrum rules does not
absolve ourselves of the consequences of our decisions. If we move beyond what we do here today and
actually update our rules to allow voice calls on planes, we could see a future where our quiet time is
monetized and seating in the silent section comes at a premium. But worse, given the anger this proposal
has generated and the negative response of so many of those who work on planes, I fear that our safety
would be compromised. This is not acceptable.
I fly a lot. I am a regular resident of the last row and middle seat. I know what it is like to have
the person in front of you pop their seat back, leaving you scrambling to hold on to your drink, hold on to
your reading material, and hold on to some semblance of peace. It is not easy. This Commission does
not need to add to that burden. I, for one, will not.
48

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

DISSENTING STATEMENT OF

COMMISSIONER AJIT PAI

Re

:

Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft

, Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, WT Docket No. 13-301.

Like most Americans, I fly coach. Each year, the seats feel a little smaller, and my legs get a
little more cramped. The airlines charge fees to check luggage, which fuels a mad rush to find space for
carry-on bags on packed flights. Going through airport security . . . that’s a whole other set of hassles and
indignities. In short, airplane travel these days is often stressful and unpleasant.
As a result, I wasn’t surprised to be bombarded with e-mails as soon as it was announced that the
FCC would vote on a proposal that could allow passengers to make in-flight phone calls. Many of these
messages were quite colorful. One person wrote: “It’s bad enough being herded like cattle on these
planes without having to listen to boorish idiots have needless conversations on their cell phones.”
Another said: “[Being] stuck next to a gabber on a 6 hour flight to San Francisco . . . I fear what I’d do
with my cutlery!!!” A third wrote simply: “NOOOO.” And those were just from my family!
Although I’m pretty sure that I could resist the urge to stab a fellow passenger, I understand these
sentiments and share these concerns. Like most Americans, I don’t want people making phone calls on
planes. But given the proposal before us, our task is to determine whether such use of the nation’s
spectrum is consistent with the public-interest standard outlined in the Communications Act.
In my judgment, today’s proposal is not in the public interest, and I must respectfully dissent. My
principal objections are twofold; they relate to the proposed licensing framework and concerns about
public safety.
First, the licensing framework proposed in this item sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to
spectrum policy. Wireless carriers have spent tens of billions of dollars, both at auction and in the
secondary market, to purchase spectrum licenses. These licenses provide carriers with exclusive use of
specified frequencies in specified geographic areas.
Today’s proposal, however, would infringe upon carriers’ exclusive use licenses. Through
administrative fiat, airlines would suddenly be licensed (for free) to use the same frequencies that are
currently licensed to carriers. However, the NPRM cites no precedent for taking such action. Nor does it
answer important questions, such as: Can anyone use a carrier’s licensed spectrum so long as they’re
pretty sure they won’t cause interference? With a series of spectrum auctions on the horizon, now is the
not the time to cast doubt on the scope of such licenses.
Additionally, I suspect that neither we nor the airlines will find the proposed licensing framework
workable or appealing. Under the approach set forth in the NPRM, I do not see how it would be possible
for an airline to allow passengers to make telephone calls unless it chose to become a commercial mobile
radio station (CMRS) carrier, presumptively subject to the full panoply of obligations and regulations that
apply to such carriers. We therefore may have to comb through our rules and decide which ones should
apply to airlines that are CMRS carriers, and which ones should not, and come up with a persuasive
explanation for each decision. These burdens on the agency and airlines alike are unnecessary.
Rather than inflexibly proposing one particular framework, I believe we should have proposed
multiple approaches or just sought comment on a variety of ideas without favoring any one in particular.
For example, we could have also proposed spectrum leasing, a tried-and-true method that respects
carriers’ exclusive use of licenses. Or we could have proposed altering our base station rules so that
carriers could contract with airlines to place cell service on board. Or perhaps there’s another approach
that could work, from auctioning “sky licenses” to unlicensed use. In any event, I believe that it is
49

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

premature for us to endorse one specific proposal today, especially the flawed one that is contained in this
item.
Second, the NPRM does not adequately address public safety and national security concerns.
Being annoyed at a chatty passenger during a flight is one thing. But flight safety is quite another. And
while today’s item maintains that “issues of onboard security and safety of flight are matters primarily
reserved for the FAA,” to me the other issues at play in this proceeding are trivial by comparison.
Back in 2005, when the Commission was considering a proposal similar to this one, the
Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security told us
that there were “public safety and national security-related concerns that stem from the Commission’s
proposal.” However, their specific concerns are mentioned nowhere in today’s NPRM. For example,
these federal law enforcement agencies told us that our proposal could make it easier for terrorists to
coordinate hijackings or detonate remote-controlled improvised explosive devices aboard aircraft.
Echoing recent comments from flight attendants, the agencies also voiced their opinion that the
Commission’s proposal could lead to more air-rage incidents, which would pose difficulties for air
marshals who are supposed to remain anonymous, if possible, during flights.
Before coming to the Commission for my first stint, I worked at the Department of Justice, where
I concentrated on counter-terrorism policy. One lesson I learned there was the necessity of close inter-
agency coordination when it comes to protecting the American people. I was therefore surprised and
disappointed to learn that the Commission didn’t consult and engage in a direct dialogue with federal law
enforcement officials prior to circulating this proposal. I am also disappointed that the item does not
propose or specifically mention the recommendations made by federal law enforcement officials back in
2005 to mitigate public safety and national security concerns. If we do not specifically ask about these
proposals here, I am concerned that we will not have a sufficient record to address those concerns and we
will not have sufficient legal notice to include necessary measures in our final rules. That won’t serve
anyone well in the end.
* * *
I’ve often said that it is important for the Commission to update its rules to reflect current
technological and marketplace realities. So while I believe that there are many other rules on our books
that cause more harm and deserve our attention, I am sympathetic to the argument that we should allow
the Federal Aviation Administration or individual airlines to decide whether to permit phone calls aboard
aircraft. Open to moving forward with a rulemaking, I carefully reviewed the item and offered a number
of suggestions for improving it. Unfortunately, most of my suggestions were not accepted, and I cannot
support the proposal that remains.
For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.
50

Federal Communications Commission

FCC 13-157

DISSENTING STATEMENT OF

COMMISSIONER MICHAEL O’RIELLY

Re

:

Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft

, Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, WT Docket No. 13-301.

I associate myself with the statement of my friend from Kansas, Commissioner Pai, in dissenting
on this notice and incorporate his substantive comments by reference. I strongly believe in eliminating
unnecessary regulations and the Commission’s ongoing duty to review its rules to determine whether they
remain necessary, especially in light of technological or marketplace changes. However, what was
originally framed as a deregulatory action – seeking comment on eliminating an outdated rule – was, in
fact, accompanied by a proposal for a problematic licensing framework that I am unable to support at this
time. The notice also raises important public safety and national security issues that should have been
addressed more fully. Nevertheless, I thank the staff for their hard work on this item.
51

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