By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff
American Airlines, the biggest carrier at Logan International Airport,
is accusing Logan officials of 'strong-arming' to crush competitive
alternatives to the airport's new high-speed Internet access service.
The airline also alleges that the Massachusetts Port Authority, which
runs Logan, trumped up 'security concerns' and violations of airport
terminal leases as a pretext for shutting down airlines' WiFi
service. It contends Massport wanted to force passengers to pay $8 a
day for Massport-controlled wireless Internet service.
"Massport's objective is clearly to force all WiFi access onto the
[Massport] system, either through strong-arming other providers or by
preventing carriers from providing Internet access to their own
patrons," wrote American Airlines attorney Alec Bramlett in a filing
to the Federal Communications Commission late last month.
Massport spokeswoman Danny Levy said Massport's security concerns 'are
indeed accurate.' A profusion of airline-operated WiFi signals, Levy
said, could jam radio frequencies used by the State Police and
Transportation Security Administration.
Levy said the TSA has already begun testing use of the Logan WiFi
network for protected security operations. "Additional applications
are planned for the future, but I cannot get into specifics," she
WiFi, which stands for wireless fidelity, offers multimegabit Internet
connections for laptop computers and other devices within so-called
hot spots. Hot spots are zones within about 150 feet of a special
radio transmitter that operates on nonlicensed airwaves similar to
those used by baby monitors, cordless phones, and walkie-talkies.
Massport first began offering its own airport-wide WiFi access at
Logan in June 2004. Since then, the agency has ordered American to
remove a competing WiFi service in its Admirals Club lounge in
Terminal B, which wireless communications provider T-Mobile USA Inc.
has been operating since 2000.
In July Massport also ordered Continental Airlines Inc. to stop
providing WiFi at its frequent-flier club, and ordered Delta Air Lines
Inc. not to deploy WiFi in its new Terminal A.