It’s kinda like poisoning your water bottle to make you buy a $10 coke.
The Federal Communications Commission has nailed another company for trying to force people onto its own, very expensive WiFi service by jamming personal hotspots created by mobile phones and cellular wireless routers. Smart City Holdings, which sells WiFi access in convention centers for $80 a day, was fined $750,000 for forcing visitors onto its network. According to the FCC consent decree, it was the result of a complaint…
In October 2014, the Bureau’s Spectrum Enforcement Division undertook the Investigation, which included sending a series of Letters of Inquiry to Smart City and reviewing the company’s written responses. Smart City’s responses revealed that, at several venues where it managed or operated Wi-Fi systems, it automatically transmitted deauthentication frames to prevent Wi-Fi users whose devices produced a received signal strength above a preset power level at Smart City access points from establishing or maintaining a Wi-Fi network independent of Smart City’s network. No evidence was submitted that the deauthentication was done in response to a specifically identified threat to the security of the Smart City network or the network’s users. After learning of the Bureau’s Investigation, also in October 2014, Smart City instructed its Wi-Fi network managers to cease such deauthentication.
It’s the second time the FCC has hit a greedy venue operator with a six figure fine. The first time involved Marriott, which was doing similar mischief in its hotels. The excuse Marriott gave was that it was a security measure, purely for the protection of its valued
suckers guests. As the FCC’s investigation of Smart City shows, that explanation is nonsense.
It’s interference, but it’s for your own good.
Lobbyists for Marriott and the hotel industry are asking for permission to use technological attacks to shut down personal WiFi hotspots and other devices on their properties (h/t to the Baller-Herbst list for the pointer). All in the name of security, of course. These are public spirited companies that would never do something so crass just to protect the profits generated from selling Internet access to guests.
As explained by Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth’s ComLawBlog, Marriott combats competing WiFi signals and what it considers misuse of its own network with digital counterattacks…
To address these various problems, Marriott and its friends commonly deploy sophisticated and expensive Wi-Fi network management systems that search for unauthorized or excessive uses of a network. When such uses are detected, the systems send codes disabling them. The signals technically don’t “interfere” with guest Wi-Fi signals – that is, they don’t “jam” any radio signals, which would obviously be illegal. Instead, they simply send management commands that keep unwanted systems from accessing the venue’s own system.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the disabling management commands also keep the unwanted private systems from functioning independently, even if those systems don’t try to interconnect with or slow down the venue’s system.
Marriott and the industry’s lobbying front, the American Hospitality and Lodging Association, want FCC blessing to control unlicensed spectrum within the bounds of their own property. Purely to protect the public, of course.
The FCC has already fined Marriott $600,000 for its particular brand of WiFi aggression. The petition under consideration would create a loophole big enough to resume the offensive. The deadline for comments is 19 December 2014.