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For corporate executives used to round-the-clock negotiating, schmoozing, e-mailing and downloading, being stuck in a plane can seem like sensory deprivation.

That is set to change (for better or for worse) as the U.S. government prepares to auction wireless frequency spectrum on May 10 that will allow airlines to ply their customers with broadband, along with cocktails and the latest Rob Schneider movie. The first such services could be in place next year.

Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said that previous government rules kept so-called air-to-ground wireless services “locked in a narrowly defined technological and regulatory box,” preventing passengers from using wireless devices that are by now an indispensable part of business travel.

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