Logan, Continental in Free Wireless Spat

Logan, Continental in Free Wireless Spat August 6, 2005

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Logan International Airport is trying to block Continental Airlines Inc. from providing free wireless Internet access to its frequent fliers — a service for which the airport charges a daily $7.95 fee — calling it a threat to safety and security.<!– –>

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, claims Continental’s Wi-Fi service interferes with other wireless devices.

Continental rejects that claim and argues Massport has no legal authority to restrict its use of the technology.

Massport ordered Continental to remove the Wi-Fi antenna from its Presidents Club lounge by July 9, prompting the Houston-based airline to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

An FCC spokesman said the complaint is the first of its kind involving Wi-Fi access at airports. The agency isn’t expected to rule on the dispute before Aug. 29, its deadline for accepting public comments on Continental’s complaint.

A Massport spokesman declined to comment on Continental’s complaint.

All 27 of Continental’s frequent-flier lounges at airports have offered free Wi-Fi service since last December. The airline’s lounge at Logan has offer the wireless connection since June 2004, but a year passed before Logan notified Continental in writing that the Wi-Fi antenna violated the terms of its lease.

Last month, a Massport attorney warned the airline that its antenna "presents an unacceptable potential risk" to Logan’s safety and security systems, including its keycard access system and state police communications.

Massport told the airline it could route its wireless signals over Logan’s Wi-Fi signal, at a "very reasonable rate structure." In response, however, Continental said using Logan’s Wi-Fi vendor could force the airline to start charging its customers for the service.

Craig Mathias, founder of the Farpoint Group, a wireless consulting firm in Ashland, Mass., said Wi-Fi signals can interfere with each other, but not with other wireless devices.

"It’s hard to imagine how this is a security threat," Mathias said. "They clearly don’t want the competition."

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