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Who owns the air?

I can easily imagine private apartment complexes and commercial structures using such language to keep WiFi out, then selling the "right" to "sell" such service to someone else.

Massport Logo

Unlicensed frequencies are supposed to be open to anyone who puts in a device that conforms to regulations.

But what if your landlord says you can't, because they want to sell access to the unlicensed frequency?

A court may have to decide this one. As Declan McCullagh reports, Logan Airport is trying to protect a paid WiFi monopoly contract it signed with a start-up called Advanced Wireless Group against the encroachment of a free WiFi hotspot installed at the Continental Air lounge.

Massport, which owns the real estate, sent Continental a letter claiming its radio threatened to jam frequencies used by police and security officials. That's bogus, since its own paid service uses the same bands.

What's really at stake here is whether real estate owners also control radio signals coming through their property. Continental has complained to the FCC, which opened a file on it, while Massport says the FCC has no jurisdiction, pointing to a lease agreement that prohibits changes to the space's communication system without prior written approval.

This case extends far beyond Logan Airport, because Massport didn't just "sell" the right to use unlicensed frequencies at Logan Airport. According to AWG, a joint-venture between a unit of sports agents IMG and a group called Electronic Media Systems, Inc. whose ownership I can't immediately identify:

Going forward, Massport may extend the Wi-Fi service to encompass all of the Massport property, including, the USS Constitution Marina, the East Boston Waterfront, and the South Boston Complex that includes the Boston World Trade Center.

Is that legal? I can easily imagine private apartment complexes and commercial structures using such language to keep WiFi out, then selling the "right" to "sell" such service to someone else. In fact this is precisely what Massport has done.

Thus do the vagaries of real estate and communications law collide. This won't be the last such case. I hope one makes it to court soon, so we know whether open source communication is a right of the people, controlled by the federal government, or a property right real estate owners can transfer, based on local contract law.