FCC Smackdown on WiFi


The FCC has just unambiguously seen off the attempt by Logan Airport in Boston to control - that is, to monopolize - WiFi services. The Boston Globe's story begins

A two-year effort by Logan International Airport officials to shut down private alternatives to the airport's $8-a-day wireless Internet service was decisively rejected yesterday by federal regulators, who blasted airport officials for raising bogus legal and technological arguments.

Blasted indeed. The FCC's Jonathan Adelstein resorts to rarely-seen revolutionary (in the Commission's statements, anyway) rhetoric: "The WiFi movement embodies the spirit of American freedom, and in our action we say 'Don't tread on me.'"

At issue here was what many — including your intrepid correspondent — saw as the naked attempt  of unresponsive, indeed crypto-Soviet, bureaucrats (heh - been through Logan lately, have you?) to ignore the clear definitions in the enabling legislation that freed up spectrum for WiFi in the first place. The critical language, as I recall, states that 'any person shall' have the right to deploy.

Any Person Shall. Not much wiggle room there.

This matters, of course, as WiFi fades into WiMax, with its much greater range. It matters, as cell phone makers (such as Sony and Nokia) ship dual-mode phones that automatically detect an open spectrum environment and switch calls seamlessly (even in the middle of a call) between the free and walled-garden backhaul networks (even though the big telecom carriers will scream, as well they may, since virtually all their revenue growth right now is wireless.) It matters to broadcasters and advertisers, as Google/YouTube (et al) migrate up the viewing quality chain from the tiny screen to imagery that will be indistinguishable from broadcast DTV of 2010.

From the Globe again: In its 25-page ruling, the FCC shredded all of Massport's legal arguments for why it should be able to regulate WiFi, which uses the same kind of unlicensed airwaves as cordless phones and baby monitors. The FCC faulted Massport for "erroneous characterizations" of fundamental federal rules and said "Massport misreads . . . and misconstrues the applicable regulatory framework."

Heh. Sic semper tyrannus, pal.

–By B&C Contributing Editor Larry Honig