Posts Tagged ‘FCC’

Skeel: EIJ14 unaffected by wi-fi controversy at Opryland

Wi-Fi network logoThe Internet service controversy that warranted a federal fine against owners of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., did not affect Excellence in Journalism 2014 last month.

Joe Skeel, SPJ’s executive director, says wi-fi access was generally good for the 950 or so members of the Society of Professional Journalists and of the Radio Television Digital News Association who attended the three-day conference, Sept. 4-6.

So, too, was the price SPJ paid for a dedicated network.

“We didn’t hear complaints directly,” Skeel said in an email to Net Worked about attendees accessing the Internet in the conference meeting space and the hotel rooms. “There was some early chatter on social media, but that seemed to subside once we increased our bandwidth.”

On Friday, the resort’s owner, Marriott International Inc., announced it had agreed pay a $600,000 civil penalty ordered by the Federal Communications Commission for its practice of blocking access to personal wireless hotspots created by Gaylord Opryland guests, thus forcing them to pay for access to the resort’s dedicated networks. The complaint that spawned the penalty dates back to March 2013.

The resort also was accused of charging individuals, small businesses and exhibitors up to $1,000 per device for access to those networks.

“It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own wi-fi network,” the FCC said in a statement.

Marriott International responded by saying it defended Gaylord Opryland’s actions as a means of protecting the resort and its customers “from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft” and asked the FCC to clarify its policy.

Besides the civil penalty, Marriott International must cease all wi-fi blocking at Gaylord Opryland and come up with a better way to monitor network security at all of its 4,000-plus properties.

EIJ15 is scheduled for the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Fla.

Skeel said SPJ contracted for free dedicated wi-fi for EIJ14 and the overall cost for that amount of service at Gaylord Opryland was significantly less than at previous EIJ venues. He declined to disclose the contract’s terms.

“Given that SPJ negotiated free wi-fi in guest rooms and meeting space for attendees and exhibitors, I don’t see how this issue came into play for EIJ14,” Skeel said. “If an attendee was blocked from using a personal hotspot, she would have had access to our network — free of charge. I’m not excusing Opryland from the practice. But I don’t think it was an issue for us.”

FCC to FTC: anything you can do I can do better, FTC to FCC: I can do anything better than you

Mimicking the Federal Trade Commission’s recent efforts, the Federal Communications Commission has begun soliciting input on its media rules and the news industry’s future. The FCC project, “The Future of Media and the Information Needs of Communities in a Digital Age,” will investigate the changing media landscape and news delivery technology to potentially make policy recommendations.

The FCC deserves kudos for its multipronged multimedia outreach effort, which involves a Web site, a Blog and a Twitter account. But the catch for those sharing their opinions with agency is that it doesn’t have a ton of daily authority over the media. Its primary media regulatory responsibilities involve licensing radio and TV stations and the agency’s famous rule limiting the cross-ownership of newspaper and broadcast properties in a given market.

It’s possible the FCC could use the Future of the Media report as part of its quadrennial review of America’s media ownership rules, which Congress mandated the agency perform as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Input from the new FCC report also could be used as the agency decides how to handle the thorny situation surrounding its decades-old cross-ownership rule.

Two years ago, the FCC altered the outright ban on the cross-ownership of a newspaper and a TV station in the top 20 U.S. markets, and the agency put out a new waiver process for smaller markets. But the FCC never managed to implement the rule change. That’s because opponents of the rule — some want it relaxed while others want to keep it tight — have waged challenges and court battle since the Bush administration began trying to loosen it 17 years ago.

The rule change case is currently before a federal appeals court. And, now that the FCC is in Democratic hands, some accuse the majority commissioners of stalling the court from tackling the issue until media ownership rules can be rewritten to keep them tighter.

Those in favor of less restrictive media ownership rules use a similar argument to the successful case for consolidation made by Sirius and XM in 2008. (You’ll recall that merger combined two massively indebted companies to create one unfathomably leveraged satellite radio giant.)

Rule change proponents say ownership limits are unnecessary today because a multitude of media and platforms disseminate information and opinions and vie for the public’s money and attention. In the meantime, big corporations say they’re missing out on potential broadcast, online and print synergies that could save their businesses.

Those who argue against changing the rules say they don’t want Rupert Murdoch, Gannett or any other corporation controlling the bulk of the major media voices in their markets. Be sure to visit the FCC’s “Future of the Media” Web site to tell the agency what you think.

Daniel Axelrod spent five years as a full-time newspaper reporter, most recently in Scranton, Pa., before moving into public relations in April 2009. Reach him at


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