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FCC Continues To Lay The Smack-Down On Hotels That Block Personal WiFi HotSpots –Debates Ensue Over WiFi and Your Rights

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The FCC has fined hotel giant, Hilton, and Baltimore Convention Center’s WiFi Provider, MC Dean for being in violation of the law for blocking personal hotspot signals while inside their facilities.  These two companies now join Marriott, who in January of this year was fined $600,000 for the same.  Hilton faced a small penalty of $25,000 for violations that occurred at their Anaheim, CA hotel, whereas wireless provider, MC Dean is facing a proposed fine upwards of $700,000 for admitting to using powerful technology that blocked connections both inside and outside of the Baltimore Convention Center.  MC Dean then charged as much as $1,095 to use their wireless services for events.

The FCC has been both a big advocate of protecting unlicensed spectrum and the rights of the public to have access to WiFi, however they were not all in agreement on this one, the FCC action was approved with a 3-2 vote.  Part of a dissenting opinion from FCC Commissioner Agit Pai:

“In the end, this decision is the latest evidence that the FCC’s enforcement process has gone off the rails.”

One WLAN manager recently put the necessity for FCC enforcement into perspective: “The only thing I can think of is that the people who are ‘confused’ don’t understand that if THEY have the right to jam my Wi-Fi devices, then conversely, I have the right to jam THEIR Wi-Fi devices.  Does anyone really believe that open warfare is the way to proceed?”

The law seems pretty black and white, right?

FCC Section 333: it is “patently unlawful for any company to maliciously block FCC-approved WiFi connections”.

So why, other than the obvious added revenue stream, would a hotel or convention center want to block their guests’ personal hot spots?  Part of the answer is so that the hotel or convention center can preserve the quality of its wireless network.  To put it simply: too many access points trying to operate on the same channels can cause a dramatic decrease in the quality of the service.  This is exactly why a property-wide WiFi network is necessary in a multifamily space: too many personal routers = interference and poor quality for residents.  It is also why intelligent WiFi network architecture is of such importance in a multifamily/ multitenant space.  A WiFi network designed right will have the ability to monitor, adjust and mitigate channel interference remotely and the network would be architected to minimize interference caused by too many access points (Spot On’s patent-pending network architecture does this).

The second “argument” being made by hotel owners is that customers are vulnerable to hacking and identity theft when they don’t control all network usage.  That one is a little odd.  If the hotel is using a truly secure network backed by client isolation technology, like Spot On’s UserSafe™ technology, users on the network are invisible to hackers.  As for those using personal hotspots in the hotel – they should be able to have the right to determine whether or not they feel safe using their connection – it should not be the hotel’s decision.

As for public opinion in the comments and blogs today, there are a few takeaways:

  • The public views WiFi as a free utility – one that is outside of “big-corporate” control
  • Many seem disgruntled by the tendency for higher end hotels to charge for WiFi and are gravitating to mid-tier chains to get their free WiFi and free breakfast
  • This is one area where public majority seems to really view a government entity as “For The People:
  • Not everyone thinks the same. While the majority of the public is cheering for the FCC ruling, a few have the opinion: “If you don’t like it as a consumer, go somewhere else”.  One commenter on Engadget: “It is their property that you are on – if they block your hotspot then don’t go there again and go to a chain that does.”

To read the FCC commission document, click here.

AT&T WiFi Calling On Its Way – FCC Grants Waiver Request

AT&T ATandT Store, 2/2015, by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #ATandT

Image credit: Endgadget.com

Hold on to your seats – AT&T WiFi calling for all AT&T customers is now on the fast track after a brief delay due to AT&T’s petition to the FCC for a waiver for it’s real-time text (RTT) feature.  The FCC requires services to support teletypewriter for hearing-impaired individuals, the RTT feature that AT&T wants to use will not be available until 2016 which is why AT&T needed the petition.  As reported, AT&T launched the feature in Beta and Beta customers were still able to use WiFi Calling during the delay.  Carrier drama has ensued with AT&T calling out both T-Mobile and Sprint for offering WiFi Calling without getting a waiver from the FCC:

We’re grateful the FCC has granted AT&T’s waiver request so we can begin providing Wi-Fi calling. At the same time we are left scratching our heads as to why the FCC still seems intent on excusing the behavior of T-Mobile and Sprint, who have been offering these services without a waiver for quite some time. Instead of initiating enforcement action against them, or at least opening an investigation, the agency has effectively invited them to now apply for similar waivers and implied that their prior flaunting of FCC rules will be ignored. This is exactly what we meant when our letter spoke of concerns about asymmetric regulation. – AT&T Senior VP Jim Cicconi

I have to imagine that T-Mobile is getting a bit of a chuckle out of the AT&T soapbox as T-Mobile is clearly the WiFi Calling pioneer, having offered the service in some form for years now.  The FCC has yet to bring a case against T-Mobile on this topic, so AT&T does appear to have some sour grapes.  There has been speculation as to why AT&T did not elect to deploy the WiFi Calling service. The FCC was not insisting carriers get the waiver for RTT and popular tech sites have pointed out the marketing value in throwing T-Mobile under the bus while appearing to be the carrier to offer WiFi Calling “the right way”.  After all, a good marketing spin might be necessary as T-Mobile is gaining a ton of subscribers with their UnCarrier model.  Green-eyed monster or not, we are thrilled that the AT&T WiFi calling feature will soon be offered to all AT&T subscribers and that AT&T sees the value of WiFi calling – or at least the market demand for it…

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