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'Net Insider:

Ensuring failure
By Scott Bradner
Network World, 09/25/00            

News Corp. and Boeing expect you to pay almost as much for Internet access on an airplane as you pay for your seat. I'm no economist, but even I can predict catastrophic failure when the plan is this dumb.

I fly a lot; actually I fly rather too much. Trying to keep up with e-mail when I spend so much time in airplanes is a pain. It usually means late nights and early mornings at the hotel. The hotel connections are finally getting better. A quarter of the hotels I stay at these days have "high-speed" Internet access in the rooms. Just plug your laptop into the Ethernet jack, do a dance with the Web browser to agree to pay for the access and away you go. This service is priced at around $10 per day.

Spending all that time in the plane still means lots of time catching up. It would be really nice if I could get Internet access for reading e-mail and doing a bit of surfing while zipping along at 35,000 feet.

Actually, there is a way to do this. You can plug your laptop into the phone in the back of the seat in front of you and use it to dial your favorite ISP. But this is slow and quite expensive, even at the "special rate" of $1.99 per minute. A few years ago I got a special deal, since discontinued, of a single, flat annual payment for all the connection time you could use. I did use that quite a bit, and that got me to bed a few hours earlier.

So I was happy to hear that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. had gotten together with Boeing to develop a satellite-based, in-seat Internet access service. Even though the latency inherent in satellite-based Internet access systems is far from ideal, it would still be helpful in keeping me awake during early morning meetings because I could get more sleep.

A few weeks ago The Wall Street Journal ran an article on the proposed service, and I'm no longer so happy. According to the Journal, the service is projected to cost between $17.50 and $25 per hour. That means on a six-hour, cross-country flight you could easily pay more for the connectivity than for your stay-over-Saturday-night fare. Note that pricing 'Net access the same as phone service is not a technical requirement because data connections, unlike voice ones, share the same circuit.

Because the equipment costs the same for one or 10 users, pricing to ensure that the service providers get less than one user seems rather brain-dead. The same service with a $10-per-flight charge would get a lot of takers, but that would be too logical.

Disclaimer: Officially Harvard does not do "brain-dead," but . . . In any case, the above rant is mine.

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