Marriott fined $600k for Wi-Fi blocking at hotel

Hotel group agrees payment to resolve investigation by US authorities

Operators, Marriott international

Marriott International is to pay a US $600,000 fine after US authorities found that one of its hotels had been using Wi-Fi blocking technology, meaning guests had to use the property’s own internet service.

An investigation by the Federal Communications Commission found that employees at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, used containment features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system to prevent individuals in the conference facilities from connecting to the internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks.

This meant that instead of being able to use their smartphones or other devices to create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, consumers, small businesses, and exhibitors had to pay as much as US $1000 per device to access Marriott’s Wi-Fi network.

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“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 centre,” said Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc.

“It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

The investigation stemmed from a complaint received in March 2013 from an individual who had attended a function at the Gaylord Opryland. The complainant had alleged that the Gaylord Opryland was “jamming mobile hotspots so that you can’t use them in the convention space.

After conducting an investigation, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau found that employees of Marriott, which has operated the Gaylord Opryland since 2012, had used features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system at the Gaylord Opryland to contain and/or de-authenticate guest-created Wi-Fi hotspot access points in the conference facilities.

In some cases, employees sent de-authentication packets to the targeted access points, which would dissociate consumers’ devices from their own Wi-Fi hotspot access points and disrupt consumers’ current Wi-Fi transmissions and prevent future transmissions.

The FCC has said that, in addition to paying the fine, 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 the Gaylord Opryland.

It must also institute a compliance plan and file compliance and usage reports with the Bureau every three months for three years, including information documenting any use of access point containment features at any US property that Marriott manages or owns.

In a statement reacting to the FCC ruling, Marriott International said: “Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft.

“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 Gaylord 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.”

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