Meeting Mentor Magazine

May 2024

Enforcement Action

FCC Continues Push Against Wi-Fi Disruption,
Fining Smart City for Blocking Hotspots

Right after MeetingMentor Online e-blasted in August, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was fining Smart City Holdings, LLC, $750,000 for blocking consumer Wi-Fi at a number of convention centers around the United States. This enforcement action requires Smart City, which provides telecommunications to convention centers and hospitality venues, to cease Wi-Fi blocking activities and file compliance reports with the FCC every three months for three years.

Investigation by the agency’s Enforcement Bureau found that if exhibitors and visitors did not pay a daily $80 Wi-Fi access fee, Smart City would block their Internet access (“deauthentication”) when they attempted to use their personal cellular data plans to establish mobile “hotspots.” The FCC  found no evidence that Smart City initiated the Wi-Fi blocking because of a security threat to its network or network users. The venues identified were in Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Orlando and Phoenix.

In a statement, Smart City president Mark Haley maintained that “we have occasionally used technologies…to prevent wireless devices from significantly interfering with and disrupting the operations of neighboring exhibitors on our convention floors.” This amounted to less than one percent of devices being deauthenticated, Smart City pointed out in a separate clarification. “We had no prior notice that the FCC considered…[this] 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.” Smart City stated that it provides free Wi-Fi access to nearly 31 million users a year in public space.

Ian Framson, CEO of Trade Show Internet, said he filed on June 14, 2014, the initial complaint cited in the consent decree. He did so after several of TSI’s customers experienced Wi-Fi jamming/blocking at convention centers where Smart City Networks was the in-house Internet Service Provider (ISP). “Forcing ISPs to compete in an open telecommunications marketplace produces greater consumer choice, higher quality of service and lower prices,” Framson said. “When ISPs compete for business, the consumer wins.”

Barney Levengood, executive director of the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium, where hotspot blocking took place, had this to say: ““The Capital Improvement Board is pleased with the outcome of the consent decree and looks forward to continuing our business relationship with Smart City. Smart City and the Indiana Convention Center remain committed to working with industry associations to develop common sense rules regarding how wireless networks and devices are utilized in the meetings and trade show environment to the benefit of all stakeholders (including the FCC).” — Maxine Golding

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About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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