A company which had been blocking Wi-Fi access at convention centers in various parts of the United States, has agreed to pay the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Enforcement Bureau $750,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
Smart City Holdings, LLC which supplies Internet and telecommunications services for hotels, convention and meeting centers, had been blocking access to personal mobile “hotspots” which were being used by convention exhibitors and visitors who preferred to use their own personal data plans rather than pay Smart City huge fees to use it's Wifi service.
Chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau Travis LeBlanc said “It is unacceptable for any company to charge consumers exorbitant fees to access the Internet while at the same time blocking them from using their own personal Wi-Fi hotspots to access the Internet.
LeBlanc issued a warning to any other companies that were using Wi-Fi blocking technology or were considering it.
"All companies who seek to use technologies that block FCC-approved Wi-Fi connections are on notice that such practices are patently unlawful.” he said
Smart City, as part of providing services at convention centers, had charged visitors and exhibitors an $80 per-day fee to access it’s Wi-Fi services.
The FCC’s investigation showed that if convention visitors or exhibitors did not pay the fee, Smart City would simply block their access to any other Internet service either through their own cellular data plans through their smart -phones or other mobile devices, or provider “hotspots” .
The FCC investigation was launched in June, 2014, after it received informal complaints from consumers that they could not connect to the Internet at venues where Smart City was providing Wi-Fi and other communication services.
The investigation showed Smart City had automatically blocked consumers access from their own Wi-Fi networks at convention centers in Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Orlando, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Phoenix, Arizona.
LeBlanc pointed out there was no evidence the blocking of Wi-Fi “hotspots” took place in response to any security threat to Smart City’s own network or the users of that network.
The Smart City enforcement action is the second major enforcement action over Wi-Fi blocking the FCC has undertaken. Last October it fined Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. and Marriott International, Inc. $600,000 for blocking Wi-Fi at Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.
Experts say many providers receive complaints from consumers who can not access Wifi hotspots in airports, hotels etc where they should be able to, and put this down to intentional blocking from companies that provide paid for services.