Coalition Eyes Plan to Improve Event WiFi Experiences

In response to a series of FCC fines resulting from the use of wireless-blocking tools, numerous groups in the meetings industry want to improve standards for WiFi in hotels and conference venues. The standards, expected next spring, will likely include an increased focus on contracts.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has turned the practice of blocking WiFi at events into something of a pet issue in recent years, and the backlash over the industry’s handling of the issue has facility owners looking for ways to better deal with the situation.

The International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) recently announced the launch of a WiFi coalition, which aims to standardize the approach used in providing wireless access at events. And earlier this month the Convention Industry Council joined the coalition, citing the need to create “common sense standards” around wireless data access—standards accepted broadly throughout the industry.

“We believe that delivering an exceptional technology experience at meetings and events requires a new level of collaboration and dialogue between venue managers, service providers, show organizers, meeting planners, exhibitors, and guests,” IAVM President and CEO Vicki Hawarden said in a news release. “We are thrilled to see the coalition bringing these groups together, and we are confident that this new effort will lead to meaningful results.”

The problem comes down to volume: In the event industry, the sheer density of people in a physical space can create challenges with managing wireless access. There may be dozens or even hundreds of devices attempting to use the same chunk of bandwidth, and that can create major headaches for venue owners and event organizers. Putting resources in place to handle the wireless demands of large crowds of people can cost large amounts of money.

Some venues have taken to passing these costs on to consumers, at times reaching costs of hundreds of dollars per person; others have taken to blocking outside wireless access to improve the quality of the wireless access offered to attendees, offering those with more bandwidth needs different tiers of access. But the FCC’s push against blocking wireless hot spots in any context complicates the situation. Companies that have been fined by the FCC over WiFi blocking, such as Marriott, have cited security and quality concerns as reasons for using such blockers.

In comments to MeetingsNet, IAVM Director of Marketing and Creative Services Jason Judy emphasized that the coalition would focus on two primary issues in creating its standards: network quality and stronger contracts.

“The first is an objective standard of measurement that all parties can use to determine when the performance of a network is compromised or requires intervention or maintenance,” Judy explained to MeetingsNet. “A second area of focus is on contract terminology, as it is our hope that the coalition can aid in developing consistent expectations, measurements, and accepted practices that protect the performance of high-density networks during meetings and events.”

During the buildup to the release of standards, IAVM has published a series of articles highlighting the challenges that wireless access creates for the meetings space. Two articles in the four-part series have already been published; part three is due soon, and the final article, expected in the spring, will detail the standards that the coalition has agreed upon.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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