FCC Slaps Tech Company with Fine for Blocking Wi-Fi Connections

Smart City Holdings blocked Wi-Fi connections in multiple convention centers nationwide, forcing exhibitors and visitors to pay up to $80 a day to access its Wi-Fi services.

by Caitlin Dineen, Orlando Sentinel / August 19, 2015
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(TNS) -- A technology services company that has an office in Lake Buena Vista was fined $750,000 for blocking personal Wi-Fi connections at convention centers around the country, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Smart City Holdings LLC blocked Wi-Fi connections in multiple convention centers, including the Orange County Convention Center off International Drive, said the FCC.

FCC officials first received a complaint June 24, 2014, that Smart City, which was providing internet services at an undisclosed convention center, might have been preventing access to independent Wi-Fi connections. The complainant worked for a company that provides equipment for establishing internet hotspots, according to the FCC release.

"It is unacceptable for any company to charge consumers exorbitant fees to access the Internet while at the same time blocking them from using their own personal Wi-Fi hotspots to access the Internet," said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC'S Enforcement Bureau.

According to the FCC, Smart City would charge exhibitors and visitors up to $80 a day to access the company's Wi-Fi services. If users opted not to pay the fee and chose to use their personal devices, their Internet connections would be blocked, said the FCC Tuesday.

Smart City has two branches: Smart City Networks and Smart City Telecom. Smart City Networks, based in Las Vegas, provides advanced technology and telecommunication services to conventions, trade shows and events.

Smart City Networks President Mark Haley said the company will not fight the fine.

In January, the FCC released an enforcement advisory that Wi-Fi blocking is illegal.

Smart City stopped Wi-Fi blocking practices in October, the same month FCC officials investigated the complaint, according to the commission.

"As recommended by the Department of Commerce and Department of Defense, we have occasionally used technologies made available by major equipment manufacturers to prevent wireless devices from significantly interfering with and disrupting the operations of neighboring exhibitors on our convention floors," Haley said in a statement.

Less than one percent of other Wi-Fi-enabled devices were blocked, said Haley.

Marty Rubin, chief executive officer of Smart City, said only vendors and exhibitors on the convention floor might have wanted to purchase the Wi-Fi.

"About 2 million annual visitors to the Orange County Convention Center receive free Wi-Fi service in the public spaces," he said. "However, many large companies cannot run their million-dollar exhibit booths on Internet service from a cellphone so1,705 exhibitors (in 2014) purchased our daily, high-speed Wi-Fi service."

Smart City has provided network services at the Orange County Convention Center for 15 years.

©2015 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.