Reporters covering tonight’s presidential debate from Hofstra University in Long Island were met with an unwelcome surprise: Just to get online with a basic Wi-Fi connection from the debate venue costs $200, as confirmed by Business Insider reporters there.
Worse yet, Hofstra has warned journalists over a loudspeaker not to use any personal Wi-Fi hotspots, like Verizon’s Jetpack or the Karma – and, according a tweet from Politico’s Kenneth Vogel, Hofstra is actually sending people around with handheld devices to search for the offending hotspots and disable them.
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) September 26, 2016
Charging journalists for a Wi-Fi connection at the debates isn’t a new practice, though Hofstra demanded less, $175, at its 2012 debate. And judging from these reports, it seems as though Hofstra is more aggressive this time about enforcing a ban on personal Wi-Fi devices.
According to Hofstra’s rate card for media services at the debate, in addition to the $200 Wi-Fi, Hofstra is charging $325 for a tethered internet connection, or $600 for the wired internet plus a landline telephone. For a mere $3,500, a team of 20 or more can get onto the Wi-Fi with unlimited devices among them.
These prices are clearly geared toward larger news outlets, but it definitely puts a pinch on anybody without a mega-media organization’s credentials. And, as Gizmodo notes, it could be illegal to essentially force reporters (or anybody) to forego their own Wi-Fi equipment and hold them hostage for the higher-cost connections at the venue.
Hofstra shared the following statement on Tuesday morning:
The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the criteria for services and requires that a completely separate network from the University’s network be built to support the media and journalists. This is necessary due to the volume of Wi-Fi activity and the need to avoid interference. The Rate Card fee of $200 for Wi-Fi access is to help defray the costs and the charge for the service does not cover the cost of the buildout.
For Wi-Fi to perform optimally the system must be tuned with each access point and antenna. When other Wi-Fi access points are placed within the environment the result is poorer service for all. To avoid unauthorized access points that could interfere, anyone who has a device that emits RF frequency must register the device. Whenever a RF- emitting device was located, the technician notified the individual to visit the RF desk located in the Hall. The CPD RF engineer would determine if the device could broadcast without interference.