The FCC has issued a new advisory regarding Wi-Fi Hot Spot interference. The current language from the FCC includes the following:
No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi-Fi network. Such action is illegal and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties.
This advisory, in part, is related to the 2014 petition filed by Marriott International, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and Ryman Hospitality Partners. The petition sought clarification from the FCC on reasonable Wi-Fi network management practices after a $600,000 fine was administered by the FCC for intentional interference with consumer Wi-Fi networks.
Marriott has withdrawn the petition, leaving venue managers and network operators with the difficult task of deciphering the broad language of the FCC advisory. The rhetoric in the petition and the subsequently filed comments focused primarily on cybersecurity and concerns related to malicious, rogue hotspots. Comments from Google, Microsoft, and others challenged the legitimacy of this argument, and the recent FCC advisory appears to support that view.
A secure network is undoubtedly essential for the transactions, point-of-sale verifications, and data exchanges happening by exhibitors and in-house services in the convention environment, but it is not a sufficient summary of the legitimate challenges affecting network management.
Another frequently encountered issue— the one affecting most convention centers and shows—is one of density and network capacity.
As corporate event consultant Brandt Krueger points out in his summary of the Marriott Wi-Fi incident, network density is an important part of the conversation that is being overpowered by the security argument:
Marriott did make one more point that was barely mentioned in the petition, or in their subsequent statements in the PR battle to follow. Sadly, I think it’s their strongest argument, at least it could have been when it came to public opinion. Wi-Fi pollution is real, and the more hotspots that are jammed into an area, the more the integrity of the signals is degraded due to natural interference. When Marriott offers high speed Wi-Fi to their meeting and convention guests, usually for what some might call exorbitant rates, their guests are going to expect it to work properly. They do indeed have an obligation to provide certain levels of service to their guests, and they can’t offer that level of service if things are all jammed up with Wi-Fi traffic.
The density issue was also raised in the reply comment filed with the FCC by Smart City Networks:
[M]ost of the parties supporting the Petition seem to agree that devices in normal operation that do not pose a threat to security or to network reliability and that are operating in a public space should not be subject to containment. These parties are urging the Commission to balance the public interest in protecting against carte blanche interference with the need for reasonable network management practices that ensure safe and reliable Wi-Fi service in non-public spaces and during private events. The Commission can and should chart a course that advances both of these legitimate objectives.
Convention centers are some of the highest density Wi-Fi environments in the world, and the congestion experienced from the volume of Wi-Fi enabled devices legitimately undermines the throughput and reliability for everyone accessing the network.
The current language offered by the FCC provides little guidance for venue managers and network operators seeking acceptable policies, and appears to be a direct response to the perception that every instance of containment is, as Google states in its opposing comment, “to drive traffic to the interfering operator’s own network (often for a fee).”
IAVM is actively following this issue, and is pursuing collaboration with the IAVM Industry Affairs Council, convention center managers, partner companies, convention center customers, and fellow industry associations (CIC, ESCA, IAEE, SISO) to determine appropriate ways to equip the FCC with information that can assist with future clarifications and policies.
Updates will continue to be shared on this blog and in communications to the IAVM community.
- Proceeding RM-11737; Petition filed by Marriott, AHLA, and Ryman Hospitality Properties: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment/view?id=60000983387
- All public filings (comments) associated with Proceeding RM-11737: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/proceeding/view?name=RM-11737
- FCC Public Notice, published January 27, 2015: http://www.fcc.gov/document/warning-wi-fi-blocking-prohibited
- (ASAE) What We Learned From the FCC’s Wi-Fi Blocking Sagahttp://associationsnow.com/2015/02/learned-fccs-wifi-blocking-saga/?utm_source=AN%2BDaily%2BNews&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20150203%2BTuesday
- (National Journal) FCC Warns Hotels Not to Block Wi-Fi: http://www.nationaljournal.com/tech/fcc-warns-hotels-not-to-block-wi-fi-20150127
- (Brandt Krueger) The Marriott WiFi Kerfuffle: A Deep Dive: http://www.brandtkrueger.com/blog/2015/1/9/deep-dive-into-marriott-wifi