The news agency AP has reported that the hotel group Marriott International has been fined $600,000 by the US Federal Trade Commission for jamming conference attendees’ own personal wifi hotspots at its Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville – which is managed by Marriott and the location of this year’s ILTA conference – forcing guests to pay to use the hotel’s own connection. While jamming personal wifi connections, Marriott was charging conference organizers and exhibitors between $250 and $1000, per access point, to use the Gaylord’s wifi connection.
Marriott agreed to the fine and has instructed its hotels not to use the jamming technology in the way it was used at Opryland, according to the FCC. But the company has defended the blocking of guests’ own wifi networks in the interest of network security. The company said it is legal to use FCC-approved technology to protect its wifi service against “rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft,” adding that hospitals and universities employee similar jamming practices.
At the four Gaylord hotels in the US, Marriott today monitors for hotspots causing interference but does not automatically block such connections, said Harvey Kellman, a lawyer for the hotel company. Only a handful of Marriott’s 4000 other hotels worldwide currently screen for hotspot interference. Marriott said it encourages the FCC to change its rules “to eliminate the ongoing confusion” and “to assess the merits of its underlying policy.”
The government said people who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal connection will be blocked. “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 wifi network,” Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau said in a statement. “This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”