Marriott fined $600k for blocking personal Wi-Fi

Marriott International will pay the government a US$600,000 civil penalty fine for jamming conference attendees’ own Wi-Fi networks at one of its hotels, forcing them instead to pay to use the hotel’s own connection, according to multiple reports.

Last year, a conference attendee at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee — which is managed by Marriott — found that the hotel was jamming their device in its ballrooms and complained to the Federal Communications Commission. it was reported that Marriott was charging conference attendees anywhere from US$250 to US$1,000 to use the Gaylord’s Wi-Fi service in the conference center.

Under the consent decree, Marriott must stop using Wi-Fi blocking technology and file reports with the FCC for three years, along with paying the civil penalty

While agreeing to the fine, Marriott on Friday defended the practice of jamming guests’ own Wi-Fi networks. The company said this wasn’t aimed at charging guests extra for Internet access but about protecting its network. It said the hotel’s actions were legal and encouraged the FCC to change its rules “to eliminate the ongoing confusion” and “to assess the merits of its underlying policy.”

“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,” the company said in a statement, adding that hospitals and universities employee similar jamming practices.

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 Wi-Fi 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.”