FCC sets airport WiFi precedent. Battle lines drawn?

FCC sets airport WiFi precedent. Battle lines drawn?

Summary: In a decision that will most certainly prove to set a precedent for all American airports and that draws a very clear line in the sand, the FCC has rejected the assertions of Logan International Airport (Boston) officials who have maintained that they have the right to prevent Continental Airlines from running its own free WiFi network in its airport lounge. Not surprisingly, you can follow the money on this one.

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TOPICS: Wi-Fi
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In a decision that will most certainly prove to set a precedent for all American airports and that draws a very clear line in the sand, the FCC has rejected the assertions of Logan International Airport (Boston) officials who have maintained that they have the right to prevent Continental Airlines from running its own free WiFi network in its airport lounge. Not surprisingly, you can follow the money on this one. Logan provides WiFi passes to travelers for $8 per day.

The Globe's Peter J. Howe reports

A two-year effort by Logan International Airport officials to shut down private alternatives to the airport's $8-a-day wireless Internet service was decisively rejected yesterday by federal regulators, who blasted airport officials for raising bogus legal and technological arguments.

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously sided with Continental Airlines Inc. in a challenge Continental brought. The FCC ruled the airline has a clear right to offer WiFi access in its Terminal C lounge, and the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, had no authority to order Continental to shut it off....

..."Today we strike a victory for the WiFi revolution in the cradle of the American Revolution," FCC commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein said in a prepared statement. Evoking more Revolutionary War symbols, he added: "The WiFi movement embodies the spirit of American freedom, and in our action we say 'Don't tread on me.' "

The FCC rejected Massport's claims that letting airlines provide WiFi service in their lounges could jam airline and public-safety radio systems.

The story goes on to talk about how Delta was also told it couldn't run its own WiFi network and how T-Mobile was ordered to shut its network down as well. Back when this rift first came to light, I tried to get to the bottom of the public-saftey radio claim and none of the agencies asserting it were willing to go on record to discuss it. However, plenty of other folks including some radio experts were willing to completely debunk it. Back then, I wrote:

if MassPort prevails, this could set an incredibly ugly precedent for what I thought was freely available, unregulated airspace.   MassPort may be aware of the fact that its on shaky ground (I can’t be sure.  It hasn’t returned my phone calls).   One sign of this is that it’s citing security as a reason that Continental Airlines can’t run its access point. According to a report by News.com’s Declan McCullagh, MassPort is claiming that "Continental’s free service poses an ‘unacceptable potential risk’ to communications gear used by the state police and the Transportation Security Administration. This may throw some off the money track.  But until MassPort, the Massachusetts State Police, or the TSA can offer real proof of that risk, my nose is still on the money track.

Well, thankfully, the right precedent has been set. Kudos to the FCC for not only putting Massport in its place, but also using language that makes it abundantly clear that it won't tolerate contrived barriers to public WiFi at Logan or any other mass transit terminal.  

One other question I have, as long as we're talking about airports, is how it is that United Airlines gets to control which security line you can go through when entering the secured areas at San Francisco Airport. Recently, when returning to Boston from Startup Camp, I noticed for the first time (I fly through SFO a lot) that United had an exclusive line (on the right side of the United area) through which only its top fliers could pass. Isn't San Francisco Airport a public building and aren't the security lines run by the TSA (a federal agency)?  I can understand why it is that United gets to run separate lines at its ticket counters. But, theoretically, shouldn't I be able to enter the secured space in a public building through any line I want?

Topic: Wi-Fi

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  • Preferred treatment at the airport

    Philosophically, I agree with you wholeheartedly. But know that there is ample precedent for government agencies illogically granting preferential treatment to the airlines' best customers, and that predates the current security concerns.

    The one time I had occasion to travel on the BA Concorde service, I was amazed to find that we had our very own customs and immigration arrival area at JFK. No one shouting condescendingly at passengers as they entered the arrivals hall, lots of agents, no waiting, and strikingly, no questions asked.

    The question is, why can't that be the experience that greets ALL visitors to the U.S..
    carolona