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Marriott Settles FCC Complaint About Blocking Rival Wi-Fi Networks

Blocking Wi-Fi networks to force customers to buy your over-priced service is a no-no, FCC says in complaint.

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Marriott International agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a federal complaint that it illegally blocked rival Wi-Fi networks at a Nashville resort so consumers would have to buy access from the hotel, the Federal Communications Commission announced Friday.

Consumers with personal Wi-Fi hotspots found they couldn’t use them at Marriott’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, FCC investigators said, because the hotel giant deliberately tampered with the Wi-Fi signals.

The FCC received a complaint in March 2013 from someone who had attended a function at Opryland, alleging that the hotel was “jamming mobile hotspots so that you can’t use them in the convention space.”

Opryland’s tech staff had used a Wi-Fi monitoring system to de-authenticate guest-created hotspots in order to force people to buy access from the hotel, according to the FCC. The problem appeared to be in the hotel’s convention space, which charges exhibitors and attendees anywhere from $250 to $1,000 for Wi-Fi service, the FCC said.

“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,” said FCC enforcement bureau chief Travis LeBlanc.

A Marriott spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Update: “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,” a Marriott spokesman said in a statement, adding the company believes its actions were lawful.)

Under the settlement, Marriott will be barred from using Wi-Fi blocking technology and must file regular reports with the FCC for three years detailing its efforts to comply with the law.

Wi-Fi networks operate on unlicensed airwaves, which means that anyone can use them. But federal rules prohibit consumers or businesses from blocking or jamming wireless signals.

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