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Thu, Nov 02, 2006

FCC Rules Boston Can't Block Airline's Wi-Fi

Continental Keeps Its Free Service At Logan

Wireless internet access is spreading... and not even the Massachusetts Port Authority can stop it. That's the word from the Federal Communications Commission, who on Wednesday ruled Massport can't block a Wi-Fi access point in the Continental Airlines lounge at Logan International Airport.

In its decision, the FCC concluded a 10-year-old set of rules governing over-the-air reception devices (OTARD) allows Continental to provide the free service to its customers -- meaning they don't have to pay $7.95 per day to use the airport's Wi-Fi network.

The decision "clarifies that American consumers and businesses are free to install Wi-Fi antennas under our OTARD rules -- meaning without seeking approval from their landlords -- just as they are free to install antennas for video programming and other fixed wireless applications," Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement accompanying the FCC's brief, according to CNET News.

The move is being heralded as a victory for Wi-Fi providers everywhere, not just airports, as it sets a precedent for other independent operators.

Continental filed a petition with the FCC last July, after Massport told the airline to remove the Wi-Fi system it installed in its "President's Club" lounge a year before. Airport officials said the system violated the terms of Continental's lease. Officials also said the system could interfere with state police and TSA equipment.

That's bunk, said the FCC, which found Continental's antenna met necessary conditions for safe operation. And it's more likely the TSA's equipment will interfere with the signal, than the other way around... as the standards for protection against interference on the unlicensed spectrum, where Wi-Fi operates, aren't as strict as those frequencies licensed for public safety use.

The FCC also chided Massport for its argument that Continental's free service takes money away from the airport -- as the FCC says the airport shouldn't expect to make money off unlicensed devices. The government also has a vested interest in promoting broadband availability.

"We're disappointed in the ruling," said Massport spokeswoman Danny Levy. "We're reviewing it carefully and weighing our options moving forward," adding the port authority may opt to take further legal action.

Continental, meanwhile, applauded the decision as "a resounding victory to the airline and for consumers."

FMI: www.continental.com, www.massport.com/logan/default.aspx

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