from the patriotic-price-gouging dept
Journalists and citizens attending this week’s Presidential debate at Hofstra Univserity found themselves facing an unexpected surprise when they were informed that WiFi at the event would cost them $200. Worse, perhaps, was that attendees said that the college was going around using this $2,000 WiFi signal detector to identify those using their smartphone as a mobile hotspot, and encouraging them to instead shell out the big bucks for a few hours of Hofstra WiFi:
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) September 26, 2016
The behavior caught the eye of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who proclaimed on Twitter that there’s “something not right” with what Hofstra was doing, and that it potentially violated FCC rules:
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) September 27, 2016
Several times over the last few years, the FCC has fined hotel and conference center companies for willfully blocking users’ hotspots from working, forcing them to shell out exorbinant rates for conference center WiFi. The crackdown began with Marriott in 2014, which initially tried to fight the fine before realizing it was outnumbered by regulators, annoyed consumers, and even companies like Microsoft. The FCC subsequently fined Hilton for similar behavior, as well as for actively obstructing the FCC’s investigation into what Hilton was doing. Several smaller conference center WiFi companies have been fined by the FCC as well.
The difference in this instance is that Hofstra wasn’t actively jamming personal hotspots in the same way conference centers have. And when pressed for comment, Hofstra representatives laid the blame for the $200 price tag at the feet of the Commission on Presidential Debates. They also claim they worked to shoot down people’s personal hotspots out of fear that they might cause interference with the existing network:
“The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the criteria for services and requires that a completely separate network from the University?s network be built to support the media and journalists. This is necessary due to the volume of Wi-Fi activity and the need to avoid interference. The Rate Card fee of $200 for Wi-Fi access is to help defray the costs and the charge for the service does not cover the cost of the buildout.
For Wi-Fi to perform optimally the system must be tuned with each access point and antenna. When other Wi-Fi access points are placed within the environment the result is poorer service for all. To avoid unauthorized access points that could interfere, anyone who has a device that emits RF frequency must register the device. Whenever a RF-emitting device was located, the technician notified the individual to visit the RF desk located in the Hall. The CPD RF engineer would determine if the device could broadcast without interference.”
While interference is certainly real, it’s not particularly likely that a user’s personal tethered hotspot would grind the Hofstra network to a halt if properly designed. Regardless, Rosenworcel says she has urged the FCC Enforcement Bureau to take a closer look at whether debate staffers went too far. Regardless of the outcome, Rosenworcel is probably happy to have her name in print for something other than her failure to support the FCC’s quest for cable box competition, a position fueled largely by inaccurate claims by the US Copyright Office.