Commentary

FCC Warns Hotels Not To Block WiFi

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott Hotels $600,000 for illegally blocking WiFi hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland, in Nashville.

Not only did the hotel prevent people from using their smartphones to create hotspots, but it charged guests and exhibitors as much as $1,000 a day to connect to the hotel's own WiFi network, according to the FCC.

Marriott is not the only hotel operator to think that WiFi blocking is a good idea. The FCC said in a warning issued today that it's currently investigating “several” complaints about WiFi blocking by companies.

“The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment’s premises,” the FCC said in its warning.

Chairman Tom Wheeler added today that protecting consumers from WiFi blocking is “a priority area” for the agency. “Consumers must get what they pay for,” he said in a statement. 

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After the FCC fined Marriott, the company (along with other hotel operators) petitioned for permission to prevent guests from using smartphones or other devices to create their own hotspots.

Marriott later promised that it would stop blocking WiFi hotspots, but said that it intended to press the FCC to clarify “appropriate security measures” for network operators.

Meanwhile, its petition remains pending with the FCC -- although the petition's fate there doesn't look promising, given Wheeler's remarks.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also said today the FCC should make clear that it won't “tolerate malicious or willful interference” with WiFi.

“We’ve all been hotel guests,” she said in a speech delivered today. “WiFi is the difference between working in the comfort and  privacy of your own room and being relegated to the business center. It’s the difference between streaming the content of your choosing and being stuck with the hotel’s on-demand selection.”

She added: “So let’s not let this petition linger or create any uncertainty. I hope my colleagues at the  FCC will work with me to dismiss this petition without delay.”

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