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April 6, 2005

Dublin Airport Forbids Multiple Operators

By Nancy Gohring

After accepting responses to a request for proposals, the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) chose Eircom, the incumbent telecom provider in Ireland, as the exclusive Wi-Fi network operator at the airport: The DAA said that Eircom must allow other operators to access the network, though it’s not clear yet exactly how Eircom will be required to open the network. Bitbuzz, a hotspot operator in Ireland, believes the DAA is improperly acting like a regulator and is potentially breaking anti-competition laws.

Last year in the U.S., some airports tried to dictate which operators could install Wi-Fi and attempted to forbid Wi-Fi in certain areas. In response, the FCC reminded the public that it has the exclusive right to resolve matters involving radio frequency interference. In other words, airport authorities and property owners in the U.S. are not in the position to dictate who may or may not offer Wi-Fi service.

Bitbuzz has applied to the DAA for work permits to install Wi-Fi for three customers including bars and business lounges at the airport and has been refused permission. The company was granted a permit to install wired access for one customer at the airport but it is still forbidden from installing Wi-Fi.

Bitbuzz believes that the DAA does not have the authority to forbid it from offering Wi-Fi in the airport and also feels that the DAA may be breaking laws by creating a monopoly within the airport. Bitbuzz has had conversations with ComReg, the spectrum regulator in Ireland and ComReg recommended that Bitbuzz work with the Competition Authority, which is responsible for enforcing Ireland’s competition laws. Bitbuzz has submitted a complaint to the Competition Authority.

Bitbuzz has also repeatedly tried to discuss the matter with the chairman and also with the CEO of the DAA but has either been told they are too busy or to wait for a response in due time.

While Bitbuzz believes that the DAA doesn’t have the authority to dictate spectrum use, the company also has some other problems with DAA’s proposal. “We think the Competition Authority might find it interesting to look at the contract between Eircom and the airport because we’ve heard that they include huge payouts from Eircom to Dublin Airport on the order of six figures in return for being the exclusive provider,” said Alex French, director of operations at Bitbuzz. “They must feel they can get that back by charging consumers high prices.”

Bitbuzz did not submit a proposal for the exclusive contract. “We always felt it was something we didn’t want to get involved in,” said French. Bitbuzz was reluctant to apply for a contract that it felt was illegal. “If the Competition Authority rules that it is illegal, there’s going to be a big issue with the provider who won the tender,” he said. Plus, the large payouts to the DAA didn’t make sense to the company.

It’s unclear at this stage how the DAA will require Eircom to share the network—either through roaming agreements or wholesale. The DAA has said that it will dictate the price of such deals based on a benchmark. “The problem is that the DAA is acting as a regulator but they have no experience with that,” said French. “Even ComReg, the regulator, struggles at times to keep Eircom under control and sometimes they have to take them to court to get them to lower prices.”

The DAA has said that there are technical reasons that it is forbidding multiple operators from serving the airport. French points to U.S. airports, some of which have many different Wi-Fi services running simultaneously, to refute that argument. In addition, last year the DAA allowed three or four of the operators vying for the exclusive contract to temporarily offer services in the airport and the networks coexisted just fine, said French.

French believes that the contract was awarded to Eircom four or five months ago but since then he’s only been able to find one or two live APs in the airport.

French is also concerned about the precedent that could be set if the DAA’s plan is allowed. If the DAA is allowed to dictate which operator can serve airport customers, it could mean that apartment building owners or office owners can also dictate which wired or wireless operators can serve their tenants.

Posted by nancyg at April 6, 2005 10:22 AM

Categories: air travel

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