In a statement released on August 18, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Enforcement Bureau 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 Networks has shared the following response on its web site:
“Smart City Networks (Smart City), the largest independent provider of managed network services to the convention and trade show industry, today announced it has entered into a Consent Decree with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that resolves an investigation related to the use of enabling technologies for managing and protecting Wi-Fi networks. As part of the Consent Decree, Smart City did not admit liability, and the FCC did not find that Smart City violated any laws.”
The following is a statement issued by Mark Haley, president of Smart City:
“Our goal has always been to provide world-class services to our customers, and our company takes regulatory compliance extremely seriously. We are not gatekeepers to the Internet. As recommended by the Department of Commerce and Department of Defense, we have occasionally used technologies made available by major equipment manufacturers to prevent wireless devices from significantly interfering with and disrupting the operations of neighboring exhibitors on our convention floors. This activity resulted in significantly less than one percent (1%) of all devices being deauthenticated and these same technologies are widely used by major convention centers across the globe as well as many federal agencies.
“We have always acted in good faith, and we had no prior notice that the FCC considered the use of this standardized, ‘available-out-of-the-box’ technology 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.
“While we have strong legal arguments, we’ve determined that mounting a vigorous defense would ultimately prove too costly and too great a distraction for our leadership team. As a result, we’ve chosen to work cooperatively with the FCC, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter. We are eager to return our energies to providing leadership to our industry and delivering world-class services to our clients.”
Managing high-density Wi-Fi environments is an issue that IAVM has been watching closely. After the FCC ruling against Marriott less than a year ago, IAVM’s Industry Affairs Committee responded with the formation of a Wi-Fi Coalition—currently tasked with providing resources and education that look at the issue of Wi-Fi management from all perspectives.
As an extension of the coalition’s efforts, IAVM is publishing a series of articles in Facility Manager magazine that look closer at the realities of high-density Wi-Fi environments. “The Wi-Fi Dilemma, Part 1”, sets the stage by documenting the unprecedented surge in data usage that networks must try to keep pace with.
As mentioned by event planner Brandt Krueger in 2014 after the Marriott fine, the “pollution” of a dense Wi-Fi environment is a very real problem for everyone paying for and expecting a high-performing network.
“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 recent FCC rulings are eliminating tools used to ensure that a network can survive high-density situations. This, coupled with an absence of clarity on acceptable practices—or agreed upon standards that network managers can operate against—poses a seemingly impossible challenge to everyone tasked with operating large, functional Wi-Fi networks.
IAVM and the Wi-Fi Coalition will continue to focus on a potential way forward for network operators, trade show/event organizers, and venue managers, but the viability of building consensus and implementing improved procedures or policies will be determined largely by the decisions of the FCC.