FCC Fines Smart City Networks for Wi-Fi Blocking at Convention Centers

Last year, Marriott International found itself in hot water over allegations that it unlawfully used Wi-Fi blocking technology to disable the personal networks of meeting attendees at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville. A year later, telecom provider Smart City Networks has found itself in a similar position.

The company, which provides Internet services to convention centers and hotels across the country, was slapped with a $750,000 fine this week by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) following an investigation in which it was discovered that the company blocked personal Wi-Fi hotspots at convention centers in Ohio, Indiana, Florida, and Arizona. Meeting attendees who wished to connect to the Internet at those facilities had to pay an $80-per-day fee for Smart City's service, instead.

"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," Travis LeBlanc, head of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. "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 has admitted no wrongdoing and said any Wi-Fi hotspots that were blocked at its facilities were blocked because they were interfering with service for exhibitors on adjacent trade show floors. Although it maintains that its actions were legal, it has decided not to fight the FCC and promises that it has already resolved the matter.

"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. This activity resulted in significantly less than 1 percent of all devices being deauthenticated and these same technologies are widely used by major convention centers across the globe as well as many federal agencies," Smart City President Mark Haley said in a statement. "We have always acted in good faith, and we had no prior notice that the FCC considered the use of this standardized, 'available-out-of-the-box' technology to be a violation of its rules. But when we were contacted by the FCC in October 2014, we ceased using the technology in question.

"While we have strong legal arguments, we've determined that mounting a vigorous defense would ultimately prove too costly and too great a distraction for our leadership team. As a result, we've chosen to work cooperatively with the FCC, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter. We are eager to return our energies to providing leadership to our industry and delivering world-class services to our clients."

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