For years, U.S. airlines have charged for domestic Wi-Fi because they had to use market forces to throttle usage. Before fast Internet became ubiquitous, most planes had bandwidth-challenged Internet that could accommodate fewer than half the people on every flight. If they gave it away, Wi-Fi would essentially be unusable.

But there is hope. Many airlines are installing faster satellite-based systems with enough capacity to satisfy everyone. Even market leader Gogo, which has long relied on ground-based cell towers, is rolling out a satellite option seven times faster than current equipment.

In the short term, many airlines will retain the technology that they now have because it is too complicated to retrofit planes. But for new planes and aircraft that never had Internet, many larger carriers have committed to faster Wi-Fi with more capacity. Since airlines must no longer ration connectivity, they may lower prices or offer free sessions, with airlines and sponsors like Amazon and Netflix absorbing costs.

So far, only JetBlue has adopted that approach. With its new satellite service, available on all A320s and A321s, as well as some E190s, the airline has the bandwidth to try something new and very exciting—no-cost Wi-Fi for all. “People expect it to be high-speed, reliable, and free,” says Jamie Perry, JetBlue's vice-president for brand and product development. On some flights, JetBlue sees more connected devices than passengers.

But Gogo CEO Michael Small says carriers likely will retain the pay-for-use model, despite JetBlue's success. Small points to Southwest, which does not charge for checked bags, even though all of its competitors do. "Remember," Small says, "some bags fly free and some don't." Here's a comparison of U.S. Wi-Fi approaches.