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Company That Blocked Wi-Fi Hotspots At Conventions Must Pay $750,000 Fine To FCC

#FreeTheWiFi.

Company That Blocked Wi-Fi Hotspots At Conventions Must Pay $750,000 Fine To FCC
[Photo: Flickr user Michael Coghlan]

This post has been updated with a statement from Smart City.

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The Federal Communications Commission has fined Smart City Holdings $750,000 and ordered it to stop blocking visitors’ mobile hotspot Wi-Fi at its various convention centers across the country.

Smart City is the telecommunications arm of the holdings company that provides connectivity to Walt Disney World, 30 major U.S. convention centers, and three NFL stadiums.

According to an FCC release, Smart City had been blocking convention attendees’ personal mobile hotspots, while charging them money to use Smart City’s Wi-Fi. Normally, Smart City charges exhibitors and visitors $80 per day to use its Wi-Fi. If its monitoring system detected an attendee attempting to use a mobile hotspot to connect to the Internet, Smart City would automatically block users from access.

“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,” FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said. “All companies who seek to use technologies that block FCC-approved Wi-Fi connections are on notice that such practices are patently unlawful.”

Smart City said in a statement to Fast Company that its Wi-Fi blockage resulted in “significantly less than one percent of all devices being deauthenticated.” (Smart City said it provides Wi-Fi access to nearly 31 million users per year in public spaces.) The company argued that major convention centers and federal agencies employ the same hotspot-blocking technologies.

Smart City president Mark Haley said in a public statement:

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“We are not gatekeepers to the Internet. 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.”

In the consent decree issued by the FCC, Smart City did not admit liability, saying the company had no prior notice that its hotspot-blocking practice was unfavorable with the agency.

However, this is the second time in less than a year that the FCC has enforced anti-blocking orders on commercial Internet providers, according to the release. In October, it fined Marriott International, Inc. and Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. $600,000 for a similar offense at its Nashville convention center.

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