FCC OTARD Rules Protect Wi-Fi Access Points

Continental Airlines is battling the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) which is demanding that the airline remove its Wi-Fi antenna within its lounge at Boston-Logan International Airport.

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order (MO&O) in ET Docket 05-247 the FCC made it clear that Continental Airline's Wi-Fi antenna was protected under FCC Over-the-Air Reception Devices (OTARD) rules. The MO&O outlines the history of OTARD rules, explaining that in a 2004 Order on Reconsideration, the FCC specified OTARD rules apply to "customer-end" antennas that also relay or route signals to other consumers. If the rules did not apply to these antennas, efficient technologies such as mesh networks would be disadvantaged.

The FCC said "this is the first time the commission has addressed a petition that involves the application of the OTARD rules to unlicensed devices that operate under Part 15 of our rules. The Part 15 unlicensed devices include a great variety of radio frequency technologies, such as Continental's Wi-Fi device."

The MO&O continues, "The OTARD rules make no distinction between radio devices using licensed technologies and those using unlicensed technologies. The commission's OTARD rules cover antennas used to send or receive 'fixed wireless signals.' Such fixed wireless signals may be sent and received by devices using either licensed or unlicensed technologies, and the same antenna may be used for both licensed and unlicensed transmissions."

Further, the commission said that it made no sense to distinguish between antennas based on whether they were used with licensed or unlicensed devices. The FCC concluded that OTARD applied to antennas used with Part 15 devices to the same extent as they did to antennas used for licensed services.

Commissioner Michael J. Copps said, "Today's declaratory ruling reaffirms the commission's dedication to promoting the widespread deployment of unlicensed Wi-Fi devices. It clarifies that American consumers and businesses are free to install Wi-Fi antennas under our OTARD rules--meaning without seeking approval from their landlords."

Copps added that the decision ensured that the Wi-Fi bands would remain free and open to travelers, who could make productive use of their time while waiting in airports.

Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein strongly supported the decision.

"Today we strike a victory for the Wi-Fi revolution in the cradle of the American Revolution," Adelstein said. "The Wi-Fi movement embodies the spirit of American freedom, and in our action we say 'don't tread on me.'"

He added that the movement had been a great telecommunications success story, as it enabled consumers and businesses to offer and receive broadband services at the most local levels and at any time and in any place.

In my travels I've found multiple options for Wi-Fi connectivity in most airports. It's hard to keep RF confined to one area and I often see travelers with open laptops leaning against a wall adjacent to an airport lounge offering free Internet access. For a list of free Internet Wi-Fi at airports around the world, visit www.wififreespot.com.