Fixed Wireless Operators Oppose Cruise Ship Net

BOSTON (05/31/2000) - A coalition of fixed wireless users view "Internet at Sea" services launched over the past year by a number of cruise lines as a threat to public safety and critical infrastructures such as railroads and pipelines.

The group, which includes the Association of American Railroads and the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition, asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission earlier this month to yank the experimental license it granted to a Miami company to provide broadband Internet service to cruise ships. The company, Maritime Telecommunications Network (MTN), uses frequencies and earth stations intended for use only on land. Andrew Kreig, president of the Wireless Communications Association International, which represents the fixed wireless industry, said signals from the terminals on the cruise ships could interfere with "vital" fixed wireless communications, including systems used to control railroad switching.

But a company that uses MTN to provide broadband services to Norwegian Caribbean Lines and Renaissance Cruises Inc. said a call from Computerworld was the first he had heard of the dispute. Glenn Farrington, CEO at Digital Seas International in New York, called the filing at the FCC a "bunch of malarkey" and said he believes it will fail because the cruise industry has more clout than the fixed wireless group at the FCC.

Pulling the MTN licenses would hit the cruise lines - which charge US$40 per hour for Internet access - in the pocketbook, Farrington said, because the cruise lines would have to buy higher priced service from the International Maritime Telecommunications Organization (Inmarsat). Inmarsat operates low-bandwidth satellites. The satellites MTN uses were originally intended to transmit wider bandwidth data to fixed earth stations located on land.

In a related development, delegates to the International Union World Radio Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, tentatively endorsed the kind of service offered by MTN, which the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) calls earth stations on board vessels (ESV).

An ITU spokesman said a WRC working group approved a draft resolution that would allow shipboard use of ESVs, paving the way for wideband services to cruise liners, passenger ships, naval vessels, seismic research and petroleum vessels, and other deep draft vessels.

But the draft resolution also included a provision that ESV operations in territorial waters should be left to the discretion of the relevant countries.

An attorney representing the fixed wireless coalition said the interference problem is greatest in near-shore, or territorial, waters.

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