FCC likely to permit Logan WiFi

When it comes to a decision on whether or not WiFi should be allowed in passenger lounges at Logan Airport, the FCC has surely imbued the adjective "long-awaited" (as in "long-awaited decision") with new meaning. Be that as it may, the FCC, or at least its director, has given us an indication of what the decision will be: Kevin Martin said he would recommend that the WiFi ban at the airport be dropped. If the agency more formally adopts this position, this may well have nationwide repercussions.

You may recall that it all began when Continental Airlines wanted to use its own WiFi to offer an Internet connection to Continental passengers whiling away their time between flights in the airline's lounge (there were other WiFi providers interested in offering the service at the airport, but it was Continental's claim which received most of the attention). Massport, the state agency which runs the airport, objected to Continental's plan, citing security and safety reasons and arguing that allowing Continental and other vendors to operate their WLANs at the airport would risk jamming the network during emergencies, preventing first responders and rescue units from communication with each other.

Many argue that the reason for Massport's obdurateness is more prosaic. In spring 2004, Massport launched its own $8-a-day WiFi service throughout Logan. When it realized that Continental, in summer 2004, was beginning to offer free WiFi to its passengers and that other airlines were planning to follow, Massport officials ordered Continental Airlines to remove a WiFi transmitter from its Terminal C lounge. Massport then threatened American Airlines and Delta Air Lines with legal action if they activated wireless service in their areas.

There was fear that Massport's action would have a chilling effect on WiFi offerings. Organizations ranging from airlines to hospitals warned that the Logan mandate could set a WiFi precedent by permitting landlords and other business authorities to keep tenants from using WiFi.

Now Martin wants to support Continental in its plan to provide WiFi at its lounge in Logan. He will need the support of at least two FCC commissioners for the proposal to be approved.

For more on the FCC and WiFi at Logan:
-see Peter Howe's Airport Business report

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