- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. | The nickname for this northern Alabama burgh is “Rocket City,” after the Redstone Arsenal and famed NASA installation. This is the town where the late Werner Von Braun and colleagues designed the rocket that took Americans to the moon and brought them home. Rocketing around the Internet from here was less problematic than one might have feared.

In fact, connectivity took off as I did when flying AirTran from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. That airline features GoGo Inflight Internet, an airborne Wi-Fi service from Colorado-based Aircell Business Aviation Services on all its flights, as does Virgin America. The service is also available on “select Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways flights,” the firm says.

Pricing ranges from $4.95 for a single flight up to $39.95 for a one-month pass good on all these airlines. I was in the middle of the pack at $19.95 for one month on AirTran.

Speed and connectivity were good, although not really good enough to support Skype, the Internet-based phone service. I could connect via Skype but the voice-into-data-packet conversion didn’t work all that well.

But for keeping up with email, and especially when trying to meet crucial deadlines, this service is a dream. Information can be found at www.gogoinflight.com. Inflight Internet isn’t the newest thing - it’s been popping up on aircraft during the past couple of years - but the proliferation of smartphones and tablet or netbook computers that are easier to use in the narrow confines of most airline seats makes having that access quite appealing.

On the ground, I depended on wired Internet access at one of the local Hampton Inns. What used to be a charged-for service just a couple of years back is now free at most major hotel brands, and that’s a good thing.

But there were still situations where Wi-Fi came in handy. Attending a three-day conference at Huntsville’s Oakwood University, I was glad for the campus’ excellent coverage. In my hotel room, I couldn’t use my Apple iPad 2 effectively without Wi-Fi.

What to do? Well, I could have turned my Apple iPhone 4 into a wireless “hotspot,” tethering it to the iPad, but according to my carrier, AT&T Wireless, it apparently needs to be set up in advance. I’ll take care of it when I get home.

But I did have a “secret weapon,” the new Motorola Atrix cell phone. My review unit, which will be discussed here in greater detail shortly, was set up by AT&T with the hotspot capability, and it worked quickly and flawlessly. After a quick check to see if it was authorized to function in this role, the setup was complete. It’s possible to add a security level if you’re concerned about unauthorized use of your hotspot.

Performance was quite good in a variety of locations and circumstances. I’m not sure of the costs involved, yet, but for business travelers, having this capability can be important, because “always on” access is, obviously, a rather useful thing.

LAST-MINUTE TAX RETURN SITES: Once again this year, I’d suggest either CompleteTax.com or TurboTax.com as resources for your tax prep. I like the interfaces at both websites, and I also found completing returns at either one as pleasant a task as possible, considering, after all, that this is preparing a tax return.

CompleteTax.com is a product of CCH, the folks who prepare the tax software many accounting firms, from small practices to large ones, use in their own income tax work. TurboTax.com is part of the Intuit enterprise, and its reputation is also excellent.

Which one you choose depends on your comfort level. And if you can’t file in time, an extension can be filed via www.irs.gov. That’ll give you more time to do the paperwork, but not, if you owe money, to pay.

Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com.