FCC to Fine Vendor for Baltimore Convention Center Wi-Fi Blocking

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Baltimore, MD – The U.S. government announced plans to fine a vendor at the Baltimore Convention Center for allegedly illegally blocking personal Wi-Fi devices during trade shows and other events held between 2012 and 2014.

The Federal Communications Commission said on November 2 that it was proposing a $718,000 fine against M.C. Dean, a contractor that provides Wi-Fi service in the convention center, for allegedly deliberately blocking Wi-Fi devices brought into the building by exhibitors and attendees. The alleged aim was to force visitors to pay as much as $1,095 per day for Dean’s service.

“Consumers are tired of being taken advantage of by hotels and convention centers that block their personal Wi-Fi connections,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “It is patently unlawful for any company to maliciously block FCC-approved Wi-Fi connections.”

The Baltimore Convention Center is the 44th largest convention center in the U.S., according to Trade Show Executive’s  World’s Top Convention Centers directory. The center is the site of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events 2015 Expo! Expo! in December.

M.C. Dean said in a statement that the company would contest the fine. M.C. Dean said it is being accused of violating federal law by using Wi-Fi network management equipment, even though the FCC expressly authorized this equipment and M.C. Dean operated the equipment consistent with the FCC’s rules.  The company said that the statute that the Enforcement Bureau contends M.C. Dean has violated – section 333 of the Communications Act – does not apply to the circumstances of this case and has never been interpreted by the FCC to cover such activities.

“The company is optimistic that either the FCC or a court will reject the legal and factual theories set forth in the NAL (Notice of Apparent Liability) and find in M.C. Dean’s favor,” the statement said.

The company, which provides a variety of electronic, electrical and telecommunications solutions, said it operated within FCC rules in Baltimore, and contended that the agency was vague in its requirements. “This regulatory approach leaves regulated parties to guess about the lawful use of FCC-authorized equipment, only to be subject to an enforcement action if they guess wrong,” the statement said.

In its response to the FCC, the electronics contractor said it had not “de-authenticated” Wi-Fi equipment from major manufacturers and that some of the alleged cases were actually the result of connectivity issues involving one particular type of transmitter used by visitors rather any nefarious action on their part.

The enforcement action in Baltimore, which began in October 2014, was the third in recent years involving the blocking of so-called personal Wi-Fi service at hotels and convention halls. Marriott was fined $600,000 in 2014 and Smart City Holdings was charged $750,000 in August.

Reach Sharon Hawkins, marketing director, M.C. Dean Inc. at (703) 802-6231 or Sharon.Hawkins@mcdean.com; Travis LeBlanc at (888) 225-5322 or travis.leblanc@fcc.gov; Peggy Daidakis, Baltimore Convention Center executive director, at (410) 649-7111 or pdaidakis@bccenter.org

Baltimore, MD – The U.S. government announced plans to fine a vendor at the Baltimore Convention Center for allegedly illegally blocking personal Wi-Fi devices during trade shows and other events held between 2012 and 2014.

The Federal Communications Commission said on November 2 that it was proposing a $718,000 fine against M.C. Dean, a contractor that provides Wi-Fi service in the convention center, for allegedly deliberately blocking Wi-Fi devices brought into the building by exhibitors and attendees. The alleged aim was to force visitors to pay as much as $1,095 per day for Dean’s service.

“Consumers are tired of being taken advantage of by hotels and convention centers that block their personal Wi-Fi connections,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “It is patently unlawful for any company to maliciously block FCC-approved Wi-Fi connections.”

The Baltimore Convention Center is the 44th largest convention center in the U.S., according to Trade Show Executive’s  World’s Top Convention Centers directory. The center is the site of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events 2015 Expo! Expo! in December.

M.C. Dean said in a statement that the company would contest the fine. M.C. Dean said it is being accused of violating federal law by using Wi-Fi network management equipment, even though the FCC expressly authorized this equipment and M.C. Dean operated the equipment consistent with the FCC’s rules.  The company said that the statute that the Enforcement Bureau contends M.C. Dean has violated – section 333 of the Communications Act – does not apply to the circumstances of this case and has never been interpreted by the FCC to cover such activities.

“The company is optimistic that either the FCC or a court will reject the legal and factual theories set forth in the NAL (Notice of Apparent Liability) and find in M.C. Dean’s favor,” the statement said.

The company, which provides a variety of electronic, electrical and telecommunications solutions, said it operated within FCC rules in Baltimore, and contended that the agency was vague in its requirements. “This regulatory approach leaves regulated parties to guess about the lawful use of FCC-authorized equipment, only to be subject to an enforcement action if they guess wrong,” the statement said.

In its response to the FCC, the electronics contractor said it had not “de-authenticated” Wi-Fi equipment from major manufacturers and that some of the alleged cases were actually the result of connectivity issues involving one particular type of transmitter used by visitors rather any nefarious action on their part.

The enforcement action in Baltimore, which began in October 2014, was the third in recent years involving the blocking of so-called personal Wi-Fi service at hotels and convention halls. Marriott was fined $600,000 in 2014 and Smart City Holdings was charged $750,000 in August.

Reach Sharon Hawkins, marketing director, M.C. Dean Inc. at (703) 802-6231 or Sharon.Hawkins@mcdean.com; Travis LeBlanc at (888) 225-5322 or travis.leblanc@fcc.gov; Peggy Daidakis, Baltimore Convention Center executive director, at (410) 649-7111 or pdaidakis@bccenter.org