Marriott fined $600k by FCC for jamming guests’ personal Wi-Fi

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A recent FCC ruling saw popular hotel chain Marriott fined $600,000 for illegally blocking the personal hotspots and other consumer Wi-Fi networks of its guests during a 2013 event. The incident took place in a Marriott hotel located at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, TN.

Travis LeBlanc, Enforcement Bureau Chief of the FCC, said, “Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center.” Marriott, it seems, was in violation of an FCC consent degree that mandates that it not block guests’ personal Wi-Fi access. The hotel chain used hardware known as “jammers” in order to disable personal hotspots and other forms of internet connection, leaving event attendees the sole option of using the hotel’s internet service plans. This technique, known as deauthentication, was allegedly employed by the hotel’s employees to funnel people away from using inexpensive personal Wi-Fi plans towards the hotel’s own offerings.

These plans ranged from $250 – $1000 for the event in question, according to the official FCC statement released on October 3 detailing the findings of the investigation. The statement also said that, “Marriott must cease the unlawful use of Wi-Fi blocking technology and take significant steps to improve how it monitors and uses its Wi-Fi technology at Gaylord Opryland.”

Despite the FCC fine and statement, Marriott, in its own statement on the matter, said, “We believe that the Opryland’s actions were lawful. We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today’s action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy.”

The company also stated that it believed its actions to be lawful, saying, “Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers. We believe that the Opryland’s actions were lawful.”

The FCC maintains a comprehensive list of permissible and impermissible Wi-Fi blocking practices on its website.