Hanging Curve Ball for the FCC

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All the feds have to do is knock this one out of the park to prove they are not hopeless telco shills. Continental Airlines wants to give wi-fi access away at Boston's Logan airport. But the airport authority wants to charge $7.95 a day for the same thing and so is making up all kinds of stuff about Continental's wi-fi being a security threat of some sort.

My guess is if the airport has some big Bell company partner, and this arrangement exists in other cities too, the FCC will find a way to make it illegal to "give away" wi-fi at airports and blather something about markets in the process.

Way, way too involved instructions on how to tell the FCC how you feel about the issue here.

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  1. My guess is that the airpot authority wants to collect X times $7.95 per day.

    Wouldn’t the service provider be just as happy to charge Continental?

  2. Must not curtail autonomy of airport and its shareholders. Common carrier regulations are just creeping statism. If travellers don’t like it they can just use a different airport, one that meets their needs better. /sarcasm

  3. Grift and corruption? In BOSTON? PSHAW!

  4. Cheap, practical tip for free internet at an airport; either go to one of the airline club lounges, or, if you are not a memeber, find a place to park your butt just outside of a club lounge. They almost always have free wi-fi as a perk for club members, so you can leech a connection. Beats paying whoever $X a day to check email and surf TotalFark.

  5. Must not curtail autonomy of airport and its shareholders.

    What shareholders? Logan is a creature of Massport, which I believe is a government authority.

  6. It’s not a Big Bell they have on their side, it’s Comcast. They already have that wi-fi-for-$8 setup in Logan. You know, of all the weak arguments you could make to get regulators to enforce your pricing model as law, I’d figure the first-mover argument would carry more weight than the terrorists-will-win one.

  7. Why do the providers of free wi-fi services hate America?

  8. Considering how successful the Bells and cable companies have been in bribing state governments to pass laws prohibiting municipal governments from building broadband networks, I wouldn’t hold anything past them.

  9. Eric II–

    I’d say this is different. I can see a business being upset if its own tax dollars are being used to build its own competition, but this isn’t a matter of the government undermining competition; this is a private company being too competitive for the government’s tastes.

  10. Correction: Comcast and its shareholders.

  11. If the airline clubs already offer free wi-fi, why shouldn’t Continental be able to offer that “perk” to all their customers if they want to?

  12. Continental is simply trying do drive Comcast out of business with its low, low prices. Once poor, little, innocent Comcast and Logan Airport are out of the picture, Continental will drive up the prices much higher than $8. Very Rockerfellerian. I say, “Where’s my checkbook?” I’ll pay that $8 any day just to save myself from higher fees.

  13. Jennifer, that’s a fair point. But it’s municipal government officials and their voters whom the phone and cable companies should be lobbying. Though I’d probably oppose plans to build a publicly-owned broadband network if they were proposed in my town, the decision to build or not should still rest with municipalities, at least as long as they’re relying on their own money to do it.

  14. the decision to build or not should still rest with municipalities, at least as long as they’re relying on their own money to do it.

    But municipalities don’t have “their own” money; they have money collected from taxpayers. If some city like San Francisco wants to build a citywide wireless network, the least they should do is enable for-profit Internet companies there to be tax-free, so that they’re not subsidizing the competition.

    Not that this will ever happen, of course.

  15. But municipalities don’t have “their own” money; they have money collected from taxpayers.

    I know that. I was drawing a distinction between state funds and municipal funds. Clearly, phone and cable companies should have the right to lobby municipal governments to not use their tax money in a way that hurts their business. The only question is whether state governments should have the right to butt in. Provided that money isn’t being taken from the state government’s budget to build the network, I don’t think that they should.

    I should add here that phone and cable companies aren’t the only entities capable of complaining about how a municipal government is hurting their business. A tennis club might be upset over a town’s plans to use its tax money to help build municipal tennis courts, for example. But that doesn’t mean the state government is justified in passing a law that bans the town from building them.

  16. Eric II–

    But a tennis club isn’t generally selling tennis-court access to the general public, but only to a select group of club members who likely wouldn’t use public courts anyway.

    But this nonsense with Massachusetts isn’t like a tennis club trying to block the building of municipal courts; it’s more like a municipal court, which charges members of the public $7.95 per game, objecting because a private tennis club is letting people play for free.

  17. But a tennis club isn’t generally selling tennis-court access to the general public

    It depends on which kind of club you’re talking about. Plenty of tennis clubs are willing to offer access to all comers at an hourly rate. I occassionally use one such club during the winter. The broader point, though, is that there are a lot of ways that a municipal government could use public funds in a manner that hurts an established business. Building a public baseball field, offering movie rentals at a public library, making public infrastructure investments to facilitate the creation of a Wal-Mart, the possibilities go on and on.

    I agree that Comcast’s lobbying with the FCC over Logan is an uglier abuse of federalism than what it and other monopolistic dinosaurs are doing with state governments over municipal broadband networks. But I also think it’s a matter of degrees.

  18. Correction: Comcast and its shareholders.

    Huh? That made no sense. Even as an attempt to fix the previous “airport and its shareholders” nonsense. Try again.

    My guess is that the airpot authority wants to collect X times $7.95 per day.

    Wouldn’t the service provider be just as happy to charge Continental?

    Well, I’m sure from the provider’s viewpoint it doesn’t matter who is paying them. But what usually happens in these deals is the service provider is pays Logan a fee for the right to sell its services on the airport grounds. If Continental is going to give away that service, the provider, even if it’s happy to collect from Continental, isn’t going to pay Logan nearly as much, if anything. So it’s presumably Logan that stands to lose in this deal, not Comcast (unless Continental can buy from someone else, but that’s another issue),

  19. Continental’s free service poses an “unacceptable potential risk” to communications gear used by the state police and the Transportation Security Administration, the letters claim.

    Care to elaborate? How does FREE wifi pose a greater risk than PAY wifi? Is the technology fundamentally different? And if that’s their cheif concern, why not just get them to upgrade their system to the kind of system that the pay-service uses, but still give it away for free? Somehow I doubt that the “risk” is inherent in the fact that people don’t pay money for it. As if, somehow, when you pay $8, you’re no longer a risk.

  20. Right now Comcast has the size and market power to control how a municipality acts. They are not just one voice in a veritable din of competing voices. Rather, they have the airport in their pocket. They had the autonomy to put the airport in its pocket (no antitrust concerns, no tax on lobbying). Now they are using that autonomy to set the municipality’s policy by proxy.

    So my reference to both the airport’s autonomy to be bought by the highest bidder and Comcast’s autonomy to buy off the gov’t should be plenty understandable, RCD.

  21. Continental should’ve offered wi-fi at $10.00 until it was established and accepted and then make it free. That would’ve undercut all the pretense.

  22. I do a lot of traveling in and out of Boston Logan. About threee months or so ago, the American Airlines Admirals Club was forced by Massport to stop providing their T-Mobile FOR PAY wi-fi service.
    Continental’s free w-fi being a security risk is bunk. Massport just wants the $8.00/day…

  23. So my reference to both the airport’s autonomy to be bought by the highest bidder

    Once again, huh? So they should allow the lowest bidder to sell wifi services? Is that how you would sell your car? Wait for all the offers and then give it to the lowest? Sounds like smart business if Logan gave the right to sell wifi at the airport to the company willing to pay them the most.

    As to Comcast’s autonomy to buy off the government, what evidence do you have for that in terms of the deal with Logan? Logan could contract with any number of providers – as you yourself imply by saying they were bought by the highest bidder. So which is it?

  24. Brian,

    The airport is supposed to be acting in the public interest. Clearly they are not doing that here. No, a government is not a profit maximizing enterprise, not supposed to be. That is what private corporations are for. The municipality is selling out the public for a quick buck. that is corrupt and bad.

  25. The municipality is selling out the public for a quick buck. that is corrupt and bad.

    It most certainly is not. Look, I’d like to see airports privatized as much as the next libertarian, but barring that, the authorities that run them are quasi-governmental in that they do have a business to run – the airport! They charge landing fees to the airlines, they contract with janitorial services, they sell advertising space on their walls, they contract with food service providers, they contract with someone to run the parking garages… why is it any different to enter into a contract to provide wifi?

    If Burger King and McDonalds both want to be in Logan and one is willing to pay more than the other, it would be irresponsible of the authority to take the lower amount. That would be corrupt and bad for the taxpayers. The authority has a duty to run the damn thing as well as possible, even if it isn’t an ideal situation from a libertarian point of view.

  26. Brian,
    If Logan wants to have an open bidding process on who gets the wi fi concession(s) at Logan, then that would be fine with me. That way we would know how much to expect our airport tax at Logan to go down. Heck, maybe the tax could be negative and we’d get a 3 or 4 buck rebate for every takeoff and landing! However, that is *not* what is going on here.

  27. “All the feds have to do is knock this one out of the park to prove they are not hopeless telco shills. Continental Airlines wants to give wi-fi access away at Boston’s Logan airport.”

    Necessary, but insufficient.

  28. Look these are unregulated frequencies. The FCC regulates radio frequencies not massport. The FCC has already said wifi falls under the same rules(OTARD) as satellite dishes, cordless phones, etc.

    As landlord, Massport does not have a right to regulate such frequencies. The do not have exclusive right to use the frequencies. The do not have the right restrict the placement of the antennas in areas that are under the exclusive control of their tennants provide that the antennas is less than 1 meter in size.

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