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Block Wi-Fi? Who, Us? Marriott Backs Away From Controversial Plan.

The hotel chain backed away from its Wi-Fi blocking effort after customers complained.


Congratulations Marriott customers, you can now use your MiFi and personal hotspots with impunity. The hotel chain dropped its campaign to block personal Wi-Fi hotspots on its properties Wednesday after a public outcry.

Saying it listens to its customers, Marriott announced it “will not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of our managed hotels,” in a statement Wednesday. The company initially told Inc. magazine about the change.

Marriott and other hotel chains asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to block Wi-Fi devices on hotel properties this summer, citing concerns about hackers establishing malicious hotspots.

Critics complained the hotel chain was simply trying to charge its guests — particularly companies using its conference spaces — for Internet access.

In October, the FCC fined Marriott $600,000 for blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots at its Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Space. Since Wi-Fi devices operate on unlicensed airwaves, anyone can use them and the federal government generally prohibits parties from knocking out rival networks.

Facing criticism from guests (and many technology companies), Marriott tried to clarify its request in late December, saying the company only wanted to block personal Wi-Fi hotspots in its convention or business spaces, not guest rooms.

But it even backed off that plan Wednesday. Marriott’s full statement below:

Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of our managed hotels. Marriott remains committed to protecting the security of Wi-Fi access in meeting and conference areas at our hotels. We will continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of Wi-Fi devices.

Update: A Marriott spokesman said Wednesday night that while the hotel chain has stopped blocking Wi-Fi devices at its properties, it still wants the FCC to consider the petition it filed jointly with the American Hospitality & Lodging Association to allow Wi-Fi blocking. So opponents of the Wi-Fi blocking plan may not want to start celebrating just yet.

Update: In an interview Thursday afternoon, Marriott’s Harvey Kellman explained the company still wants FCC guidance on how it might block Wi-Fi signals to stop hackers, but the hotel chain won’t block at six properties where the technology is installed for now. “We will only consider the use of the blocking capability when there is a clear cyber-security risk,” said Kellman, a senior attorney for the hotel giant.

A few telecom lawyers emailed Re/code Wednesday night noting Marriott agreed to stop blocking in November as part of its FCC settlement, but Kellman said that agreement was limited to Marriott’s Opryland facility.

(Arguably, Marriott had to stop blocking at all of its hotels because FCC could have fined it for continuing the practice at other locations. The agency had accused Marriott of blocking Wi-Fi users “who did not pose a threat to the security” of Opryland or its guests.)

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