Section 333 of the Communications Act prohibits willful interference with any licensed or authorized radio communications. Virginia based M.C. Dean didn’t get that memo, and is looking at a large fine by the FCC for blocking individual WiFi hotspots at the Baltimore Convention Center. M.C. Dean provides electrical, communications, and telecom services for the convention center. Exhibitors were charged hundreds (and some thousands) of dollars if the wanted to access the center’s WiFi network.
In October the FCC received a complaint from a company who offered competing WiFi services that M.C. Dean was inhibiting other hotspots and users keeping their connections. FCC investigators looked into it, visiting the convention center three times and confirming that actions by M.C. Dean were causing the disconnection. A staffer for the company acknowledged the blocking but that visitors could use the center’s WiFi which is available for free in the lobby. It’s not free on the exhibitor floor. Prices to access from there were anywhere from $795 to $1,095. There is also some evidence the company’s actions extended beyond the convention center and extended beyond its walls.
The company has defended their actions saying it was to improve security and reliability. The FCC has alleged how that’s the case hasn’t been answered.
The FCC is proposing a fine of $718,000 and you can read the FCC’s full take here. Due to the company’s profitability from this, as well as the amount of times they did it, the FCC has come down pretty hard with this one.
I reached out to conventions such as Otakon and Baltimore Comic Con as well as vendors and exhibitors at the show. Baltimore Comic Con got back to me saying their process has exhibitors paying M.C. Dean directly for WiFi services, and that they themselves didn’t use the WiFi themselves, sticking with the cellular network and MiFi. Otakon did respond having received my inquiry, but I haven’t gotten their full details by time of publishing. This will be updated if any further statement is received.
I spoke to numerous exhibitors and vendors. None I spoke to used the WiFi offered by M.C. Dean, with many of them citing the price as to why not. One comic publisher said:
We didn’t use the WiFi at the con this year. When we were told that WiFi was going to cost us over $1,000 on the exhibit floor, at first we thought that couldn’t be right. But when we realized that was indeed the case, we used the Hotspot on one of our staffers’ cell phones instead, and it worked great.
I hope no one paid that fee!
That publisher said their Hotspot did work fine from the floor.
We’ll continue to follow the story and follow-up during next year’s Otakon and Baltimore Comic Con to see if pricing has changed.
It is also unknown if individuals who paid for the service are able or will receive restitution (reading the FCC’s document, I didn’t see anything about that). Individuals who feel they should, should probably contact the FCC or their lawyer.
Update: We have received a statement from Otakon.
Otakorp is aware of the recent FCC investigation and is monitoring the developments closely. Otakorp/Otakon makes very limited use of wireless internet in the BCC. We’re looking forward to working with the BCC and MC Dean for our final year in Baltimore.
– Nick Avgerinos, Otakorp Vice President.