FCC Fines Company Caught Blocking Wi-Fi To Force Visitors On To Their Own, Absurdly-Priced Services
from the packet-shenanigans dept
The FCC has fined yet another company for blocking user Wi-Fi access in order to drive customers to the company’s own, ridiculously-expensive Wi-Fi options. According to an FCC announcement, regulators have fined Smart City Holdings, LLC $750,000 for blocking user access to Wi-Fi at a number of convention centers served by the company. More specifically, Smart City was caught using common technology that sends de-authorization packets to user devices, kicking them off of their own personal hotspots or tethered smartphones while in Smart City business locations.
This was done, says the FCC, so that users would have to use Smart City’s own service, which according to this brochure for the Charlotte convention center (pdf), is provided at pricing that’s downright comical. Smart City offers convention center exhibitors access to 24 hours of blisteringly-fast (1.5 Mbps) Wi-Fi for $80, three days of Wi-Fi for $160, or five days for $360. If you’re just a conference center visitor your options get even slower, with the company providing 768 kbps Wi-Fi service for $13 per 24 hours.
Obviously most users would rather just use their own phone as a hotspot to avoid these charges, and the FCC reminds everyone that acting like a jackass and preventing this from happening to make additional money simply isn’t ok:
“It is unacceptable for any company to charge consumers exorbitant fees to access the Internet while at the same time blocking them from using their own personal Wi-Fi hotspots to access the Internet,? said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC?s Enforcement Bureau. ?All companies who seek to use technologies that block FCC-approved Wi-Fi connections are on notice that such practices are patently unlawful.”
This is the second time the FCC has had to step in and slap some wrists. The company fined Marriott $600,000 last year for the same thing, though Marriott was blocking local Wi-Fi to drive users to even more expensive, $1,000 per device Wi-Fi service. Marriott originally tried to fight the agency by arguing this was all done to protect the safety and security of their customers, but sheepishly backed off of the practice once they realized the court of public opinion was very clearly not on its side.
Like Marriott, Smart City apparently couldn’t help itself, and felt it necessary to issue a bullshit statement pretending the practice was about network security:
“As recommended by the Department of Commerce and Department of Defense, we have occasionally used technologies made available by major equipment manufacturers to prevent wireless devices from significantly interfering with and disrupting the operations of neighboring exhibitors on our convention floors. This activity resulted in significantly less than one percent (1%) of all devices being deauthenticated and these same technologies are widely used by major convention centers across the globe as well as many federal agencies.”
So yeah, uh, we weren’t being anti-competitive asses, we were simply worried about network security (the irrelevant DOD reference is a nice touch though). Fortunately, Smart City’s statement also makes it clear they see the futility of fighting the FCC on this issue:
“While we have strong legal arguments, we?ve determined that mounting a vigorous defense would ultimately prove too costly and too great a distraction for our leadership team. As a result, we?ve chosen to work cooperatively with the FCC, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter. We are eager to return our energies to providing leadership to our industry and delivering world-class services to our clients.”
Yeah, it’s probably a good idea to get back to what you do best: charging outrageous pricing for pathetically-slow Wi-Fi service.