FCC Seeks Comments of Massachusetts Port Authority's Attempt to Regulate Airport WiFi Hotspots

July 29, 2005. The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) issued a Public Notice [PDF] requesting comments on Continental Airlines' Petition for a Declaratory Ruling [16 pages in PDF] and supplement [PDF] regarding the Massachusetts Port Authority's (MPA) attempt to regulate and extract revenues from airport WiFi hotspots.

Continental installed a WiFi hotspot in its frequent flyer lounge at the Boston Logan International Airport. It provides WiFi access for free.

The MPA has demanded removal of the antenna. The MPA asserted in a letter to Continental (which is attached to the petition) that there is a "potential threat to public safety caused by Continentalís unauthorized and unlawful wireless communications". The MPA asserts that Continental's service creates an interference problem.

However, the correspondence attached to the petition suggests that the MPA's concern is not with radio frequency interference. Rather, Continental's free service is interfering with the extraction of monopoly rents from WiFi users, most of whom are not Boston area residents.

The MPA does not object to WiFi operation at the airport. It provides WiFi service through a third party vendor. The MPA wants to compel Continental to use its third party vendor's facilities, and to pay its rates, and by implication, pass the costs on to its customers.

Another problem for the MPA is that some airport users have obtained free WiFi access by positioning themselves just outside of Continental's lounge.

The MPA wrote to Continental that it "may make fixed wireless services available in its Clubroom by making arrangements to route its wireless signals over the existing WiFi backbone which has been installed and is operated by AWG, a third party vendor." The MPA states that Continental will be charged "for airline use based on the number of enplanements" or on the "hits".

Continental asserts that the FCC holds exclusive jurisdiction, and that the demands of the MPA are prohibited under the FCC's Over the Air Reception Devices (OTARD) rules.

The MPA also wrote that it "does not concede" that the FCC's OTARD rules are lawful.

Initial comments are due by August 29, 2005. Reply comments are due by September 13, 2005. This public notice is DA 05-2213 in ET Docket No. 05-247.