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« Canon Wi-Fi Camera Revealed | Main | Atlanta At Last (Really) »

October 25, 2005

USA Today Editorial Condemns Massport

The unsigned editorial essentially says that Massport is reaching far beyond its grasp: The editorial states in no uncertain terms that if Massport is allowed to shut down legally operating Wi-Fi networks in its facility by its tenants, that this could cause other authorities and municipalities to attempt the same, ruining the unlicensed bands.

It's a very, very well-informed editorial, accurate in its facts and I agree with its statements and conclusion. They write, "This move is an audacious assertion of power by local government. The authority, known as Massport, does not own, control, or have any right to regulate frequencies assigned to Wi-Fi." Further, "This case is not about the right of local government to impose taxes to fund essential public services. It is about the seizing of assets (Wi-Fi frequencies) for the purpose of destroying competition and imposing monopoly prices."

They note that Massport is citing interference as a danger without substantiating it. And that's right. If Wi-Fi interferes with airport purposes than the airport is not operating itself correctly, and the TSA, FAA, and FCC should assert control over their use of spectrum until it's sorted out. If it's a ploy, some people should lose their jobs. You can read about the history of Massport mismanagement over the last decade at IssueSource.

Massport was allowed its own response on the same page, and it's full of nonsense. I cannot wait for the FCC smackdown. The Massport CEO Craig Coy writes, it's "a case of airlines putting travel perks for an elite few ahead of the broad interests of the traveling public" and states "Those without an ISP may pay a nominal fee for 24 hours of service"--a nominal fee being $7.95.

He then writes, "In contrast, airlines at Logan offer limited service to their elite frequent fliers who pay extra to join private, members-only clubs....Unlike the airlines, the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, treats all passengers and ISPs equally." This guy is for real. Holy cow. He draws a salary and everything.

This disregards the obvious the fact that Massport's Wi-Fi is, in fact, available in private airport lounges, and allows the precise choice that Coy states is unavailable. His statement completely ignores Continental's free, free, that's right, free Wi-Fi network! Free.

"In these days of terrorism and safety alerts, security is a critical consideration for Logan's decision to offer central Wi-Fi," Coy writes. Oh, dear lord, see above where I suggest some firings. "The central Wi-Fi network provides first responders at Logan with enhanced services and secure communications." Merciful heaven.

He writes, "The airlines' Wi-Fi networks are not only exclusive but also could degrade the quality of service for all users. Imagine the Wi-Fi chaos if every airline, every vendor, every security agency and every ISP deployed its own system." They're exclusive in that they are designed for the people who use them: airline club members. Wi-Fi is designed for contention. The market ensures that the networks remain useful. And Coy ignores the convenient fact that he does have the right to restrict non-tenants from building networks in the airport. You're not going to have 1,000 networks in the airport.

Here's the capper: "All airlines enforce governmental restrictions on the use of electronic devices on aircraft. Why do airlines now want to ignore similar common-sense restrictions on the use of Wi-Fi devices in airports?"

Because there's no problem. Because the FCC regulates this. Because the FAA knows there's no problem. Because, in short, you're trying to control something you clearly don't understand.

Mr. Coy, why do you hate the free market?


Could somebody who knows something about this try to explain Coy's comment "Passengers may use their existing ISP at no additional charge. Those without an ISP may pay a nominal fee for 24 hours of service."

I have to presume that he has no idea what ISP means and is referring to the services provided by some ISPs such as webmail, etc. and not the "carrier".

So what is the actual fee for Internet Acess, you know, an IP address, gateway and DNS? If that in fact is $0 it seems that this is way overblown.

[Editor's note: The walk-up fee for access is $7.95 per day. The "ISP" rate, which is the rate charged by ISPs that have a relationship with Massport's Wi-Fi franchisee, could be $0 to whatever. The idea that it's "no additional charge" completely misstates how aggregators and ISPs work with Massport's contractor, just as much as "nominal fee" represents $7.95 per day. Some aggregators and resellers and ISPs charge their customers nothing as part of a monthly amount, but they pay Massport's franchisee per session anyway. Others charge their customers the same, higher, or lower than what Massport's franchisee charges them. This CEO doesn't know his own business if he's going to misstate it in print.--gf]

I like how you back up your statements with facts.
facts like "merciful heaven" speak so much to me, and do such a fantastic job of pointing out the factual flaws in the argument you oppose.

I'm not sure where I stand on this issue overall, but it seems to me that you have missed their primary argument for security -- that being that Massport intends to use their wifi network for security purposes (presumeably video/voice oip & location finding). Having multiple vendors deploying their own AP's without any regulation over channels, etc. would just not work well for any such plans. As a result they have decided the best way to meet the needs of all is to outsource the entire wifi operation to a single provider (comcast in this case as it happens to be).

[Editor's note: I used sarcasm to counter the ignorance in Mr. Coy's column. On the security front, re-read the last part of my post: You can't build a secure networking system in Wi-Fi regardless. Someone can easily turn on a jammer in an airport and flood the airwaves among many other tactics that a true security situation could involve. Licensed, higher-powered public safety bands and the reserved federal bands are available for security--and are being used. And you can't stop travelers from using ad hoc networks or having their transceivers on. You can't ban cordless phones. There are microwave ovens in use, etc., etc. It's an ugly band, not designed for critical operations, which is an ongoing issue in metropolitan-scale deployments, too.

I would agree that there's some reason to plan and be concerned, except that Boston is a latecomer. Of the 50 largest airports in Europe and the U.S., I believe we're well over halfway now to having full terminal deployments--JFK is a weird exception, but Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Newark, LaGuardia, Detroit, Minneapolis...all of these airports are huge, none of them ban or restrict other Wi-Fi networks (and some have many, many different ones operated by airlines privately and publicly, shops, etc.).

If it's such a problem, why is Boston alone in making these charges? --gf]