One place I don’t mind paying for Internet access by the hour

For years, I’ve been a bit of a curmudgeon about inflight WiFi. A seat on a plane was a refuge from an interrupt-driven lifestyle, a place where I could monotask for a change.

Engine nacelle over mountainsAnd besides, most first-generation, air-to-ground WiFi systems became unusably slow once enough people got on. In my limited experience, at best Gogo’s cellular technology yielded download speeds below 1 million bits per second–unacceptably slow 3G service on the ground. So why would I want to pay $16 or more for a flight’s worth of that?

Satellite-based WiFi can run much faster and works over oceans but is usually no cheaper over the duration of a flight.

(JetBlue offers free satellite WiFi but isn’t convenient for most of my usual destinations. Southwest charges only $8 a day for satellite WiFi but has its own route-map issues.)

Hourly pricing can make this a better proposition–I have paid Gogo’s $5 hourly rate on short flights, though I no longer do since I discovered that my phone’s Google apps work for free on its WiFi. But on its 737s, United Airlines offers hourly prices with a tweak that makes them more valuable to me: a pause button.

I can pay $3.99 for an hour of LiveTV’s satellite-delivered WiFi that actually works–download speeds have exceeded 24 Mbps in my tests–and then stretch out those 60 minutes by pausing it while I eat, nap, read, squeeze myself into the lav or take a moment to appreciate the wonder of occupying a chair in the sky. I can further extend my online time by opening up a batch of pages in new tabs, then pausing the connection to read them as if I were trying to save costs on a dial-up connection.

I can’t do that with Gogo, where you only buy a continuous hour of use. But I also haven’t seen this purchase option on United’s other WiFi-equipped aircraft; this airline’s inconsistent service (its A319s and A320s got WiFi before its 737s but still don’t have in-seat power) extends to a confusing mix of WiFi providers and pricing. I worry the company will “fix” this problem by taking away the pause button–but for now, that has me spending money I might otherwise not ante up.

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Weekly output: Who has your back, robots, CE Week, Washington Apple Pi, travel WiFi blacklists

Beyond a trip to New York for CE Week, the last seven days also brought me back to 1150 15th Street NW for a Washington Post alumni reunion Thursday night. That will be the last such gathering at that address, because the paper is moving to rented space in a much better-looking building on K Street.

6/23/2015: Tech Firms Trust Our Government Even Less Than You Do, Yahoo Tech

I though the fifth release of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual “Who Has Your Back?” report on how tech companies stand up to government requests for data about their customers was a newsworthy moment. I did not realize until starting to write this piece how much the tech industry has moved since just 2013, as I realized when I re-read some of my first Disruptive Competition Project posts.

CE Week panel description6/24/2015: The March of the Robots, CE Week

I enjoyed talking about the progress and continued problems of the consumer robotics business–from floor-cleaning robots and toys for kids to driverless cars and drones–at this CE Week panel with Engadget editor Devindra Hardawar, Spin Master designer Andres Garza, Ozobot CEO Nader Hamda, and WowWee CTO Davin Sufer. As the screengrab shows, I was checking my phone pretty often to consult my notes and look for any Twitter feedback; I don’t know how annoying that looked from the seats.

6/24/2015: CE Week TV: Rob Pegoraro, CE Week

Later that afternoon, I did a quick interview about our robotics discussion with Judie Stanford.

6/27/2015: Rob Pegoraro on personal technology, Washington Apple Pi

I returned to this Apple user group for the first time since 2013 and talked about the increasing amount of convergent evolution between iOS and Android and how that doesn’t seem to have cooled down the usual mobile-OS bigotry. Most of the questions I got from the audience afterward were not about those issues; instead, people wanted to know about their choices in broadband Internet access and what they could do to get away from traditional pay-TV subscriptions.

6/28/2015: Wi-Fi wrongly blocking sites? Blame humans, USA Today

I enjoyed the irony of using my column to unpack a problem that a longtime competitor (re/Code’s outstanding Walt Mossberg) had complained about on Twitter.