Hotel giant Marriott caves in, promises not to block wi-fi

Marriott International has promised not to block personal wifi hotspots at its hotels after Google and Microsoft weighed in against a bid by hotels seeking permission to do so in order to “secure” their network — a practice it was fined $600,000 for last October.

The hotel chain made the commitment on Wednesday, following recent efforts by Microsoft, Google and others to prevent a petition to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by hotels including the Marriott that sought a ruling that would permit them to block personal hotspots in order to “maintain the security and reliability”of their networks.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

“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.”

Marriott filed its petition amid an ongoing FCC investigation into the hotel that stemmed from a 2013 complaint that employees at Marriott’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Centre in Nashville, Tennessee were “jamming” mobile hotspots.

To the relief of thousands of people who attend conferences at hotels in the US each year, the FCC ruled that Marriott must stop the “unlawful use of wi-fi blocking technology, fined the company $600,000 and told it to clean up its act.

The FCC found it was not “jamming” devices per se but had used a wi-fi monitoring system to “contain or de-authenticate” guest-created wi-fi hotspots access points. In same cases, staff sent de-authentication packets to those access points to break a connection between a device and hotspot and prevent future use.

The regulator’s enforcement chief Travis LeBlanc also said consumers who purchase a mobile data plan should be able to use them without fearing their internet connection will be blocked when at a conference centre.

On top of blocking guests’ access to personal hotspots, FCC had found the hotel was charging exhibitors and attendees between $250 to $1000 per device to connect to its wi-fi network.

In opposition to Marriott’s petition, Google stated: "While Google recognizes the importance of leaving operators flexibility to manage their own networks, this does not include intentionally blocking access to other Commission-authorized networks, particularly where the purpose or effect of that interference is to drive traffic to the interfering operator's own network (often for a fee)," it said.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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