Continental Airlines Inc. can provide free wireless Internet access to its top customers at Boston's Logan International Airport despite the objections of the agency that runs the airport, the Federal Communications Commission ruled Wednesday.
The Houston-based airline installed Wi-Fi in its Presidents Club frequent fliers lounge in 2004 for free use by customers and employees.
The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, demanded a year later that Continental remove its Wi-Fi antenna, claiming it violated the airline's lease and was contrary to FCC rules. Logan claimed it interfered with other wireless devices and presented "an unacceptable potential risk" to Logan's safety and security systems, including its keycard access system and State Police communications.
Massport argued that travelers who needed Internet access could get it in other ways, including use of the airport's own Wi-Fi service for a fee of $7.95 per day.
Continental argued that Massport did not have the authority to restrict its use of the technology, and filed a complaint with the FCC, backed by other airlines, technology groups and wireless providers.
The FCC agreed with Continental.
Wi-Fi does not interfere with safety and security communications systems, commissioner Michael J. Copps wrote in his decision, saying the record on that question is "uncontested."
"Today we strike a victory for the Wi-Fi revolution in the cradle of the American revolution," commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein wrote. "The Wi-Fi movement embodies the spirit of American freedom, and in our action we say `Don't tread on me.'"
Massport is trying to determine its next move.
"We're very disappointed in the ruling and we're reviewing it carefully and weighing our options," spokeswoman Danny Levy said.
Continental offers free Wi-Fi at all 27 of its Presidents Club lounges worldwide and service at Logan was never interrupted, airline spokeswoman Julie King said.
"This really is a tremendous win for passengers," said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, an industry group whose members include most major U.S. passenger and cargo airlines. "The ruling is not exclusive to Logan but extends to other airports as well. This ruling gives passengers a broader choice in accessing the Internet while traveling."
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American Airlines is accusing Logan officials of "strong-arming" to crush competitive alternatives to the airport's new high-speed Internet access service.
Capitol Hill lobbying groups say Logan officials' could set a dangerous nationwide precedent for squelching wireless services.
Continental has battled Massport at the FCC for more than a year to get the ban overturned.