from the anti-competitive-shenanigans dept
The FCC has since fined other companies for similar behavior, including a $750,000 fine levied against a company by the name of Smart City Holdings for doing the same thing at a string of convention centers all over the country. Now the FCC says it has levied yet another fine of $718,000 against a company by the name of M.C. Dean for blocking user access to their own WiFi while visiting the Baltimore convention center:
"As the exclusive provider of Wi-Fi access at the Baltimore Convention Center, M.C. Dean charges exhibitors and visitors as much as $1,095 per event for Wi-Fi access. Last year, the Commission received a complaint from a company that provides equipment that enables users to establish hotspots at conventions and trade shows. The complainant alleged that M.C. Dean blocked hotspots its customers had tried to establish at the Baltimore Convention Center. After receiving the complaint, Enforcement Bureau field agents visited the venue on multiple occasions and confirmed that Wi-Fi blocking activity was taking place."In all of these instances the companies in question used hardware that sent de-authorization packets to user mobile hotspots and tethered smartphones, confusing the devices and disrupting any attempted connection to them. In M.C. Dean's case, the FCC found that the hardware it was using in the Baltimore convention center was powerful enough to disrupt WiFi connectivity for people simply passing by outside. As with everything the FCC does lately, only Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mike O'Rielly (think the Statler and Waldorf muppets but much less funny) opposed cracking down on this behavior.
In perhaps a more interesting companion announcement, the FCC notes that it has also fined Hilton hotels $25,000, but for obstructing the FCC's investigation into similar behavior. According to the FCC, Hilton ingeniously tried to deflate any investigation into WiFi blocking by simply refusing to answer the agency's questions:
"In August 2014, the Commission received an initial consumer complaint alleging that the Hilton in Anaheim, California blocked visitors' Wi-Fi hot spots unless those consumers paid a $500 fee to access Hilton's Wi-Fi. The Commission has also received Wi-Fi blocking complaints involving other Hilton properties. In November 2014, the Bureau issued Hilton a letter of inquiry seeking information concerning basic company information, relevant corporate policies, and specifics regarding Wi-Fi management practices at Hilton-brand properties in the United States. After nearly one year, Hilton has failed to provide the requested information for the vast majority of its properties."Surely playing mute will work? In all cases, the FCC states these companies are violating Section 333 of the Communications Act by maliciously interfering with or causing interference to lawful WiFi hotspots. Marriott had initially tried to argue that the definition of "interference" in Section 333 was ambiguous enough to create doubt over FCC authority over unlicensed spectrum here, but after regulators, the public, Google, Microsoft and wireless carriers all started yelling at Marriott in unison, it became pretty clear that trying to argue the point (just to defend clearly anti-competitive behavior) just wasn't going to be worth it.