The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued an enforcement advisory to persons and businesses that blocking or interfering with personal hotspots is prohibited under the law. This enforcement advisory comes on the tail of the FCC fining Marriott $600,000 in October over the practice.
Marriott was specifically fined for an incident at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, a large conference and convention center. Utilizing deauthentication packets, they were interfering with personal WiFi hotspots used by guests and vendors. A deauthentication packet mimics the ID of the user’s personal connection, which then prevents the personal connection from being used. However, deauthentication itself is not authenticated, and is thus a common point of attack for public WiFi connections. The FCC and the original complainant allege that Marriot was utilizing this technique during a function at the Gaylord Opryland. The FCC notes that Marriott has a financial motive from blocking personal hotspots, noting that “At the same time that these employees engaged in these practices, Marriott charged conference exhibitors and other attendees anywhere from $250 to $1,000 per device to use the Gaylord Wi-Fi service in the conference facilities.”
“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “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. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”
While Marriott has paid the fine, they are still maintaining that hotels and convention centers should have some control over wireless networks, citing security concerns. In a press release, Marriott says that “[W]e 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.”