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[Ham-80211] Municipal WiFi Meets Free WiFi

Timothy J. Salo salo at saloits.com
Thu Aug 25 20:00:49 UTC 2005

I wrote this for a local mail list, but you may get a laugh out of it.


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Municipal WiFi Meets Free WiFi

Some of you may find a recent collision between municipal WiFi and
free WiFi interesting.

The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), which contracted
with a company to provide for-fee WiFi service at Logan Airport,
has demanded that Continental Airlines remove its free WiFi
access point from the Continental lounge.  Continental has asked
the FCC to rule that Massport doesn't have the authority to demand
that Continental remove its free WiFi access point.

The FCC's public notice is available at:


You can search for submitted comments under Docket Number 05-247.
(Go to the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System, ECFS, home page
at: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/ecfs/ and click on "Search for Filed
Comments".  Enter "05-247" in the Proceeding field.)

Unfortunately, a couple of thousand users of Continental's free WiFi
service have submitted comments, so you have to wade through a pile
of "save our free WiFi" comments to find the interesting ones.  About
three interesting documents have been submitted so far:

o	Continental's Original Petition


o	Continental's Supplement to the Original Petition


o	Airports Council International-North America Motion for Extension
	of Filing Deadline


I suspect that additional interesting comments, if any, will to be
submitted at the last minute.

First, if I might observe.

Based on the record, both Continental and Massport are using
unlicensed equipment regulated under Part 15 of FCC regulations
(CFR Title 47), namely WiFi equipment.  Section 15.5 includes:

	(b) Operation of an intentional, unintentional, or incidental 
	radiator is subject to the conditions that no harmful
	interference is caused and that interference must be accepted
	that may be caused by the operation of an authorized radio
	station, by another intentional or unintentional radiator,
	by industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) equipment, or
	by an incidental radiator

In short, unlicensed devices such as WiFi equipment enjoy no
regulatory protection from interference, and must be shut down
if they interfere with any licensed service.

Now, if I might editorialize.

First, Massport, in a July 5th letter attached to Continental's original
filing, said:

	"... There are various safety and security wireless applications
	currently deployed over the WiFi backbone throughout the
	terminal area of Logan Airport, including critical public safety
	communications by the State Police, the Transportation Security
	Administration, and the Authority.  Given the potential thread
	to public safety caused by Continental's unauthorized and
	unlawful wireless communications, ..."

So, Massport is using unlicensed WiFi devices, which must accept
harmful interference, to transport public safety information.
In my opinion, it is probably irresponsible to use a WiFi network
(in an uncontrolled environment) for safety-critical information.
(By "uncontrolled" I mean locations where others can install
Part 15 equipment, such as outside.  Concrete/steel structures
attenuate the frequencies used by WiFi such that equipment outside
of your building probably won't adversely affect your WiFi equipment
inside your building.) Likewise, including public safety traffic as
a justification for municipal WiFi networks is risky (e.g., I will
likely remind you about harmful interference and Part 15 unlicensed
WiFi equipment.)

Second, by all appearances, Massport is trying to suppress potential
competition.  Of course, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise.
Municipalities haven't complained about benefiting from monopolies
in the past.  I find it ironic that some advocates of municipally-owned
networks are hesitant to remind us that these same municipalities
were instrumental in creating the existing cable and phone
monopolies.  So, claiming that municipal WiFi systems will help
fight existing monopolies may also be a bit risky, (e.g., because
I will remind you that municipalities seem to like to create
and protect monopolies).

Having said all that, I am not necessarily opposed to municipal
investments in broadband infrastructure or services.  I simply
expect that any proposal include a well-articulated and widely
accepted set of objectives and detail about the expected
benefits, costs, and risks.  Any proposal ought to contain
enough information that municipal investments in broadband
can reasonably be traded off against alternative municipal


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