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Massport-Continental battle over free airport WiFi

In a case with intriguing implications for rapidly spreading WiFi hotspots at airports, Continental Airlines has filed a complaint with the FCC arguing that Massport, the independent authority which develops and manages Massachusetts' airports, exceeded its authority when it demanded that the airline turn off the WiFi service it was offering passengers in its lounges. Massport's action appears to fly in the face of the FCC's June 2004 decision that unlicensed spectrum, the rules governing it, and activities within it were the sole domain of the FCC. Landlords may try to rewrite leases giving them permission to regulate tenants' use of unlicensed spectrum, but such clauses would be unenforceable if the FCC's stipulations were followed.

The fight erupted after Massport hired a company to install WiFi throughout the airport. The operator was granted exclusivity so it could resell WiFi access to the public and make a profit. Continental, however, insisted on offering free WiFi access in its lounges, lounges it leases from Massport. The vendor complained that Continental's offering of free WiFi violated its exclusivity agreement with Massport and that, in any event, it made it difficult to make a profit. Massport then ordered Continental to cease offering free WiFi, citing safety concerns. Continental has been operating its free WiFi service since June 2004 without Massport raising any safety concerns. The FCC has scheduled a hearing and has asked for public comments on the matter.

For more on the Massport-Continental battle:
- see the FCC's request for comments document (pdf)

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