Feds fine Internet provider $750K for blocking Wi-Fi at conventions – USA TODAY
CINCINNATI — Federal regulators Tuesday announced a $750,000 settlement with Smart City Holdings LLC for blocking consumers’ Wi-Fi at various convention centers around the United States.
Smart City, an Internet and telecommunications provider for conventions, meeting centers, and hotels, had been blocking personal mobile “hotspots” that were being used by convention visitors and exhibitors who used their own data plans rather than paying Smart City substantial fees to use the company’s Wi-Fi service.
“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,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the Federal Communication Commission’s enforcement bureau, in a news release. “All companies who seek to use technologies that block FCC-approved Wi-Fi connections are on notice that such practices are patently unlawful.”
The FCC said that in providing service at convention centers, Smart City charged exhibitors and visitors a fee of $80 to access the company’s Wi-Fi services for a single day. An FCC investigation revealed that, if exhibitors or visitors to the convention centers did not pay this $80 fee, Smart City would automatically block users from accessing the Internet when they instead attempted to use their personal cellular data plans to establish mobile Wi-Fi networks — or “hotspots” — to connect their Wi-Fi enabled devices to the Internet.
As part of the settlement, Smart City will cease its Wi-Fi blocking activities and will pay a $750,000 civil penalty.
In June 2014, the FCC received an informal complaint that consumers could not connect to the Internet at several venues where Smart City provided Wi-Fi service. The enforcement bureau’s investigation revealed that Smart City automatically blocked consumers from using their own “rogue” Wi-Fi networks at several convention centers the company serves, including convention centers in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Orlando, Fla.; and Phoenix. No evidence exists that the Wi-Fi blocking occurred in response to a specific security threat to Smart City’s network or the users of its network, the FCC said.
The action was the FCC’s second major enforcement action regarding Wi-Fi blocking. In October 2014, the commission fined Marriott International Inc. and Marriott Hotel Services Inc. $600,000 for similar Wi-Fi blocking activities at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville.