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FCC to fine company for allegedly blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots at Baltimore Convention Center

The Federal Communications Commission plans to fine a Virginia-based electrical contracting system for allegedly blocking personal mobile Wi-Fi connections at the Baltimore Convention Center, it announced Monday.

The FCC will fine M.C. Dean Inc. $718,000 for the alleged practice of blocking mobile "hotspots" for conventiongoers trying to use their own plans to connect to the Internet, rather than paying M.C. Dean to connect to the company's Wi-Fi service.

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M.C. Dean is an exclusive provider of Wi-Fi at the Baltimore Convention Center and charged exhibitors and visitors as much as $1,095 per event for Wi-Fi, according to the FCC.

The company said it "strongly disagrees" with the FCC's decision to levy the fine, which it called "legally and factually flawed." It said it allowed conference-goers to use personal Wi-Fi hotspots, acting in good faith and complying with the law.

"M.C. Dean is being accused of violating federal law by using Wi-Fi network management equipment, even though the FCC expressly authorized this equipment and M.C. Dean operated the equipment consistent with the FCC's rules," the company said in a statement.

The FCC said it investigated a complaint from a customer about the practice and found that M.C. Dean had blocked personal Wi-Fi hotspots "dozens" of times in the last year. The fine follows several other FCC enforcement actions against Wi-Fi blocking at other hotels and convention centers nationwide.

Peggy Daidakis, the convention center's executive director, said she hadn't seen details of the fine, which were sent to M.C. Dean Monday afternoon. But she said the company had recently begun allowing limited access, despite its exclusive contract.

"I can say they are in compliance with allowing access to outside independent vendors," she said. "We feel that it's working."

In its statement, the company said it plans to challenge the regulator's action.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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