Porn nightmare at 37,000 feet?

American Airlines urged to filter Web sites on its high-flying Wi-Fi service, not an issue for Qantas which has its own set of Internet problems.

Qantas' A380

Qantas' A380

American Airlines flight attendants are urging their employer to block passengers from using inflight Internet access to view pornography and other inappropriate Web content, according to Bloomberg.

However, it is more than likely that no such problems will affect Qantas passengers traveling on its forthcoming A380 superjumbo. Presently, Airbus is having difficulty getting Internet connectivity, which is meant to be a feature in the planes, off the ground.

And when it does, there will be restrictions. “I expect there will be [content filtering] but I cannot give you any firm details at this stage,” said a Qantas spokesperson.

According to the Bloomberg article, the flight attendants union in the US stopped short of making a formal request. American has started offering passengers a fee-based Wi-Fi service that lets them access the Internet while in flight. The potential problem: What happens if passengers in close quarters indulge a penchant for graphic sex or violence?

The wireless Internet service is based on a unique nationwide cellular network, created by Aircell, which links the jet’s onboard 802.11abg access points with one of 92 ground base stations. The cell link is based on CDMA EVDO technology in the 3MHz band, and delivers an uplink data rate of 3.1Mbps, and a downlink rate of 1.8Mbps. Aircell plans to use compression techniques, which may boost those rates.

The company recently announced it eventually will embrace the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard for so-called 4G mobile broadband communications.

CNET’s Dave Carnoy reviewed the jeternet access and concluded the speed was pretty impressive. The chief drawback was the drain on the notebook’s battery, created by that continuous Wi-Fi connection.

The Bloomberg story included the obligatory "slippery slope" comment, this one from Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, who wondered “Where do you draw the line once you start policing the information your customers can access?''

An American spokesman suggested the flight attendants and crew have plenty of experience doing just that. “Customers viewing inappropriate material on board a flight is not a new scenario for our crews, who have always managed this issue with great success,'' says Tim Smith, a spokesman for American.

What’s not clear is whether the airline will try a technology fix: some kind of filtering program that will block sites or types of content. A union spokesman said American already uses software to block VoIP calls via the wireless network.

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John Cox

Network World
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