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FCC Commissioner Blasts Marriott’s Wi-Fi Blocking Plan

Wi-Fi is a good thing and the hotel industry request should be rejected, says FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

Marriott International’s effort to block personal Wi-Fi hot spots on its properties just got a lot more difficult, after an influential FCC commissioner said Tuesday morning the plan is a bad idea.

“There are other ways to address legitimate network security concerns,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner who has previously promoted setting aside more airwaves for unlicensed use — which means anyone can use them. Wi-Fi networks operate on unlicensed airwaves.

Jessica Rosenworcel
Jessica Rosenworcel

“We’ve all been hotel guests. Wi-Fi is the difference between working in the comfort and privacy of your own room and being relegated to the windowless business center,” she said during a speech Tuesday morning at the State of the Net Conference in Washington. “Let’s not let this petition linger or create any uncertainty. I hope my colleagues will work with me to dismiss it without delay.”

Rosenworcel’s rejection of Marriott’s plan is notable since she’s an expert on wireless issues and because she’s one of three Democratic commissioners on the five-member board. It would be nearly impossible for Marriott or the hotel industry to cobble together enough support for its plan now, since the FCC’s three Democrats generally vote together on issues.

Marriott and the American Hospitality & Lodging Association asked the FCC last summer for permission to block Wi-Fi signals on the operator’s properties, citing the need to prevent hackers from scamming guests.

Guests, however, complained about the plan, and Marriott clarified it was only interested in blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots in its convention or business spaces, not in hotel rooms.

Company officials said the effort was about protecting guests, not about protecting the revenue stream the hotels receive from Wi-Fi fees (which is what many people thought was behind the proposal).

No FCC officials have previously spoken publicly about Marriott’s proposal.

But it was already seen as something of a stretch, since the FCC fined the hotel $600,000 last October for blocking some hotspots in its Gaylord Opryland convention space.

Update: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement saying the law “prohibits anyone from willfully or maliciously interfering with authorized radio communications, including Wi-Fi.” He said that Marriott’s request “seeking the FCC’s blessing to block guests’ use of non-Marriott networks is contrary to this basic principle.”

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.