The FCC Wants To Know Why Journalists Had To Pay $200 For WiFi At Presidential Debate

from the patriotic-price-gouging dept

Journalists and citizens attending this week's Presidential debate at Hofstra Univserity found themselves facing an unexpected surprise when they were informed that WiFi at the event would cost them $200. Worse, perhaps, was that attendees said that the college was going around using this $2,000 WiFi signal detector to identify those using their smartphone as a mobile hotspot, and encouraging them to instead shell out the big bucks for a few hours of Hofstra WiFi:
The behavior caught the eye of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who proclaimed on Twitter that there's "something not right" with what Hofstra was doing, and that it potentially violated FCC rules:
Several times over the last few years, the FCC has fined hotel and conference center companies for willfully blocking users' hotspots from working, forcing them to shell out exorbinant rates for conference center WiFi. The crackdown began with Marriott in 2014, which initially tried to fight the fine before realizing it was outnumbered by regulators, annoyed consumers, and even companies like Microsoft. The FCC subsequently fined Hilton for similar behavior, as well as for actively obstructing the FCC's investigation into what Hilton was doing. Several smaller conference center WiFi companies have been fined by the FCC as well.

The difference in this instance is that Hofstra wasn't actively jamming personal hotspots in the same way conference centers have. And when pressed for comment, Hofstra representatives laid the blame for the $200 price tag at the feet of the Commission on Presidential Debates. They also claim they worked to shoot down people's personal hotspots out of fear that they might cause interference with the existing network:
"The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the criteria for services and requires that a completely separate network from the University’s network be built to support the media and journalists. This is necessary due to the volume of Wi-Fi activity and the need to avoid interference. The Rate Card fee of $200 for Wi-Fi access is to help defray the costs and the charge for the service does not cover the cost of the buildout.

For Wi-Fi to perform optimally the system must be tuned with each access point and antenna. When other Wi-Fi access points are placed within the environment the result is poorer service for all. To avoid unauthorized access points that could interfere, anyone who has a device that emits RF frequency must register the device. Whenever a RF-emitting device was located, the technician notified the individual to visit the RF desk located in the Hall. The CPD RF engineer would determine if the device could broadcast without interference."
While interference is certainly real, it's not particularly likely that a user's personal tethered hotspot would grind the Hofstra network to a halt if properly designed. Regardless, Rosenworcel says she has urged the FCC Enforcement Bureau to take a closer look at whether debate staffers went too far. Regardless of the outcome, Rosenworcel is probably happy to have her name in print for something other than her failure to support the FCC's quest for cable box competition, a position fueled largely by inaccurate claims by the US Copyright Office.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: fcc, jessica rosenworcel, journalists, presidential debate, wifi
Companies: hofstra university


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  1. icon
    DB (profile), 30 Sep 2016 @ 10:43am

    I expect that this incident will result in the rapid evolution of the FCC's regulatory stance.

    The FCC has the exclusive regulatory control ("competency" for you EU types) over the use of the airwaves and regulation of transmitting devices in the U.S. That includes the exclusive right to prohibit and limit transmitting devices.

    I'm guessing that they will re-write rules to make that clear, and to provide specific areas where they cede their authority (rather than leave ambiguity if they have the authority). Exceptions will include listed areas where all transmitting devices are allowed to be banned for safety reasons: certain areas of hospitals (although it is questionable if that is technically required), on aircraft (again questionable), prisons (although prohibiting contraband should cover that), areas being prepared with explosives, and parts of the federal government exempt from FCC rules (the US DoD cooperates with the FCC, but does not need to follow the rules).

    They will specifically state the banning other devices so that your devices work better is usurping their exclusive authority. Banning devices for safety reasons will be a narrowly interpreted, especially if you want to use transmitting devices while banning everyone else.

    There is a fresh urgency to clarify the rules, since this case might be opening the floodgates to every contract, ticket and venue purporting to be able to regulate how you can use the public airwaves.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat

Warning: include(/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_promo_discord_chat.inc): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_module_promo.inc on line 8

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_promo_discord_chat.inc' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/share/pear:/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395:/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/..') in /home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_module_promo.inc on line 8
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.