Enlarge / The debate hall at Hofstra University hours before the debate is set to begin.Spencer Platt / Getty Images News
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News organizations attending Monday evening’s presidential debate must pay $200 for a “Secure Wireless Internet Connection” at Hofstra University in New York state.
The debate is set to begin at 9pm Eastern.
While profiteering during a high-profile occasion such as this is not unheard of—$15 for a patch cable?—what’s worse is that event staff at Hofstra University are reportedly using a $2,000 device to actively scan for hotspots and other ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks.
Dear god. @RyanBeckler just sent me this from Hofstra.
They’re charging $200 for media WiFi access. pic.twitter.com/VSagT6ZerF
— (((Steph Haberman))) (@StephLauren) September 26, 2016
There was just an announcement in the debate filing center that personal wifi dongles are prohibited, instead you must buy their $200 wifi
— Jim Newell (@jim_newell) September 26, 2016
Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel, who posted a related photo, said on Twitter that journalists are essentially being given an ultimatum: use your own hotspot and get “tossed” from the debate site. (Of course, this problem can simply be solved via a Bluetooth or USB tether from an active smartphone to a laptop.)
Hofstra’s action may be unlawful under an advisory published by the Federal Communications Commission in January 2015 which found that “willful or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hotspots is illegal.”
As Ars reported previously, the FCC fined fined Marriott $600,000 in October 2014 for blocking customers’ personal Wi-Fi hotspots at a Nashville, Tennessee, branch.
Although Marriott paid the fine, it remained defiant and filed a request for rulemaking with the commission, asking that Wi-Fi blocking be permitted. Marriott’s reasoning was that it could better manage the security of its own network if it blocked unauthorized Wi-Fi broadcasts.
Neither Hofstra University nor the FCC immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment.
UPDATE 8:29pm ET: Apparently the overpriced Wi-Fi is actually down, according to Wired editor Emily Dreyfus.