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Federal government / Internet

The FCC is cracking down on WiFi blocking at the Baltimore Convention Center

Telecom contractor M.C. Dean could be hit with a $718,000 fine for allegedly stifling outside hotspots. The company plans to challenge the ruling.

The Baltimore Convention Center. (Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins University)

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to slap the Baltimore Convention Center’s WiFi provider with a six-figure fine for blocking outside hotspots during conferences.
M.C. Dean potentially faces a $718,000 fine in connection with allegations that the company blocked use of personal mobile hotspots during events. With WiFi access via their own data plan blocked, the convention attendees and exhibitors were required to pay fees for access charged by M.C. Dean.
Those fees ranged from $795-$1,095 per event, the FCC said.
In a statement, the FCC said a company attending an event at the downtown convention center lodged a complaint, leading to a formal investigation. During that investigation, investigators found that the convention center used “Auto-Block Mode” on its WiFi system on “dozens of occasions” last year. Passing vehicles outside the center were also blocked, the FCC said.
“This disturbing practice must come to an end. It is patently unlawful for any company to maliciously block FCC-approved WiFi connections,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc.
Over the summer, the FCC fined Smart City Holdings for blocking WiFi at conventions. The agency has also fined Marriott hotels, and on Monday also proposed a fine against Hilton.
M.C. Dean contracts with public and private entities to build electronic and communication systems. In addition to work at the Convention Center, the Dulles, Va.-based company also has a South Baltimore office and has previously worked on security checkpoint upgrades at BWI.
In a statement, the company said it disagreed with the fine, and plans to challenge the FCC.
“M.C. Dean is being accused of violating federal law by using WiFi network management equipment, even though the FCC expressly authorized this equipment and M.C. Dean operated the equipment consistent with the FCC’s rules,” said a statement. The company also contends that the public still had access to the Convention Center’s free WiFi, which is available in the lobbies.
The company also calls into question whether the specific statute — section 333 of the Communications Act — applies to WiFi blocking. They may have an ally in FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, who voted against fining M.C. Dean.

“If applied, the statutory language of section 333, as written, could undermine the regulatory structure of unlicensed operations and potentially subject all WiFi users to potential enforcement action whenever they ‘willfully’ operate WiFi equipment,” O’Reilly wrote. He called for Congress or the FCC to reissue regulations on WiFi blocking, rather than issuing such a fine.

In a dissent, he wrote that the FCC is “trying to set important and complex regulatory policy by enforcement adjudication. This is backward and not the best course of action.”

Companies: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) / Baltimore Convention Center

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