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FCC licenses Boeing's Internet venture

The Federal Communications Commission grants the airplane maker a license for its in-flight Internet and e-mail service. But U.S. launch plans are still, well, up in the air.

Airplane maker Boeing said Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission granted the company a license for its in-flight Internet service, which was recently hobbled by the withdrawal of three big U.S. airlines.

The future of the Connexion by Boeing service has been in doubt since the Sept. 11 attacks prompted American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines to withdraw financial support after agreeing to partner with Boeing on the project. The three airlines had agreed to become Connexion customers in return for an equity stake in the Boeing subsidiary.

The service would allow air passengers to read e-mail or surf the Web for an hourly fee at the minimum speed of a 56kbps dial-up modem connection. When, and how, to launch the service is still being evaluated.

"It will depend on a lot of factors like the financial situation of the airlines, the passenger load, and the industry's recovery from 9-11," Connexion spokesman Fernando Vivanco said.

Connexion still remains on track to start outfitting European carrier Lufthansa with a prototype of its service in late 2002 or early 2003, Vivanco said. Connexion representatives are also meeting with about a dozen airlines in January to discuss the service, he said.

Airbus, a Boeing rival, has announced that it is developing a similar service and has a stake in Tenzing, a maker of in-flight Internet equipment.