FCC Chief Wants Boston's Logan to Allow Airlines' WiFi

The nation's top telecommunications regulator is pushing to overturn a disputed ban Logan International Airport officials imposed two years ago on wireless Internet services offered by airlines at Logan, according to a published report.

Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is trying to get at least two other FCC commissioners to agree that the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, has to allow airlines to offer so-called WiFi wireless service in Logan's waiting areas, professionals familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Soon after launching its own $8-a-day WiFi service throughout Logan in the summer of 2004, Massport officials ordered Continental Airlines to remove a WiFi transmitter from its Terminal C lounge. Massport threatened American Airlines and Delta Air Lines with legal action if they activated wireless service in their areas.

Massport said the service could interfere with Massport, airline, and State Police radio networks.

But Massport has come under criticism from Continental, thousands of petition-signing frequent travelers, and telecommunications and electronics trade groups, who call the move an iron-fisted effort to impose a Massport monopoly in WiFi service at Logan.

Continental has battled Massport at the FCC for more than a year to get the ban overturned.

The Boston hospital giant Partners HealthCare System Inc. also urged the FCC to overturn Massport, saying its policy could set a precedent for landlords forcing tenants to buy landlord-controlled WiFi service.

WiFi enables wireless Net access at speeds of up to 50 megabits per second, using the same kind of unlicensed radio spectrum that baby monitors and cordless phones use.

Telecommunications lawyers interviewed by Reuters said Martin has circulated a proposed order to the four other commissioners that would overturn Massport's policy.

FCC and Massport officials were not available last evening to comment on the Reuters report.

"We are optimistic that the FCC will confirm Continental's right, consistent with the agency's existing rules, to continue providing free WiFi service to Continental customers at Logan and other airports," said Continental spokesman Dave Messing.

Continental's challenge to the Massport ban has also drawn support from public utility commissioners in nine states. Dozens of other US airports allow airlines and coffee shops to offer WiFi.

Logan spokeswoman Danny Levy has in the past repeatedly denied that Massport is trying to squelch private alternatives to its WiFi network, noting that people who subscribe to international WiFi access from providers such as Boingo Wireless Inc. and iPass Inc., which that have signed so-called roaming deals with Massport, are allowed to use those services. Logan's only concern, Levy said, was that a proliferation of WiFi transmitters could interfere with airport radios.

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