Published on : Tuesday, August 25, 2015
The purpose of this letter is to provide you with additional information regarding the August 18 announcement by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Enforcement Bureau of a $750,000 civil penalty levied against Smart City Holdings, LCC, for blocking consumers’ ability to connect their mobile communications devices via WiFi to wireless networks at various convention centers throughout the United States. Smart City is the exclusive Internet service provider for the GCCC and has been for the past 15 years, with the current contract concluding December 31, 2015.
The primary FCC concern was Smart City’s blocking of mobile hotspots by guests who wished to utilize their own personal cellular data plans to establish mobile WiFi networks, commonly known as hotspots, to connect their devices enabled by WiFi to the Internet, rather than paying for Smart City’s services.
At times, some of our clients and their exhibitors will bring in equipment utilizing powerful antennas transmitting potent signals that often disrupt other exhibitors’ wireless systems or devices. In an attempt to monitor these powerful transmitters, Smart City used deauthentication technology in a limited number of convention centers, including ours. This deauthentication technology is utilized, approved and recommended by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Commerce and manufactured by Cisco, the worldwide leader in information technology. The equipment is simply plugged in and through monitoring will automatically turn off any device using excessive levels of radio transmission power.
There were no FCC guidelines on the industry standard equipment used by Smart City and many providers, including the Marriott Hotels to control power levels of this type of heavy duty antenna wireless device. On October 3, 2014, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau cited Marriott for using industry-standard equipment that can disable the “hotspots”, stating that Marriott was violating a 1934 law that applied to radio stations, even though wireless technology used today was not in existence in 1934.
In October 2014, when the FCC informed Smart City that the FCC did not approve of this technology, Smart City discontinued use of these containment features. Following this announcement, the FCC issued a formal Enforcement Advisory on January 27, 2015 outlining specific rules on deauthentication in meeting venues. The FCC effectively applied this advisory retroactively to Smart City.
The FCC inaccurately stated that Smart City would deauthenticate anyone who did not pay an $80 fee. In fact, Smart City considered only signal strength when determining when to deauthenticate disruptive devices. The practice resulted in Smart City’s deauthenticating less than 1 percent of all the devices, thus making the network environment more manageable and safe for all users. For the GCCC, we estimate there has been approximately one dozen times that its equipment automatically turned off offending devices when these devices hit the pre-set threshold.
What does the future hold? Smart City will continue to offer free WiFi in the public lobbies and meeting spaces of the GCCC and monitor the wireless airspace in our venue for interference and disruption issues and report those issues to venue management and show managers for potential resolution. The FCC consent decree will have no impact on the ongoing service levels or resources available to support events in the convention center.
As a service provider of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Smart City continues to share our intent to enable as many customers as possible to connect to the Internet in order to facilitate a successful WiFi experience in our venue in accordance with federal laws and guidelines. Both our organizations remain committed to working with industry associations to develop common-sense rules for how wireless networks and devices are utilized and managed within convention centers to benefit all stakeholders.
We appreciate the opportunity to provide this additional information to you and look forward to providing you with even more amenities as we embark upon our $125 million facility expansion and renovation to conclude in July 2017.
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