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Hotels often charge for wi-fi access, and so it probably comes to little surprise that they want to maintain control of that access in general. Marriott is leading a charge on a petition to the FCC on the matter, wanting clarification on blocking hotspots after they were required to pay $600k for jamming wireless signals in the Gaylord Opryland hotel that they manage for  Ryman Hospitality Properties.

Marriott filed the petition, along with Ryman Hospitality Properties, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). They make somewhat of a weird case in the petition argue that the FCC should consider what was in the original part of Section 333 done in 1990, and not those that were added in later amendments. It also claims that because Part 15 services (essentially independent radio transmissions and such like antennas, personal radio stations, or cellphone hotspots) are not specifically called out in Section 333, it shouldn’t be counted – despite Part 15 existing, being protected, and authorized 50 years before Section 333 became law. They argue that because of that, and because the FCC has given a seal of approval to things like Cisco network monitors that they have that right currently to do so and Section 333 does not apply (The section that says you aren’t allowed to willfully or maliciously interfere with radio communications licensed or authorized by the act).

Many of the examples they use are problematic as well. These are generally things at places like universities against over use of network or illegal use of the network. They are claiming that because these places are able to say using the internet for games, or downloading stuff, or beyond a certain amount in a month, that is the same type of network management they are wanting to do. Of course, those programs are managing their own network – not stopping others from creating their own.

Given the FCC’s ruling earlier this year and the statement that was released regarding what Marriott had done at the Gaylord location it seems unlikely that they are going to agree with the petition. When they announced that decision this is what Travis LeBlanc, the chief of FCC’s enforcement bureau had to say:

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

There have also been other filings on the matter from interested parties such as Google who called the logic in the petition “puzzling” when they are claiming Wi-Fi wasn’t protected as unlicensed wasn’t added until a few years later. In harsher language the third part of their writing is called “Jamming Wi-Fi is Against the Public Interest” making it clear where they stand on the issue.

There were some complaints about people having this affect guest rooms, however Marriott has tried to get a head by saying thats not what they want to do in a statement released Tuesday. In the statement they talk about security concerns again, and of people using personal hotspots to mislead others, as well as wanting clarity on an issue only they seem to really have had. This is the full statement:

We understand there have been concerns regarding our position on the FCC petition filing, perhaps due to a lack of clarity about the issue. To set the record straight it has never been nor will it ever be Marriott’s policy to limit our guests’ ability to access the Internet by all available means, including through the use of personal Mi-Fi and/or Wi-Fi devices. As a matter of fact, we invite and encourage our guests to use these Internet connectivity devices in our hotels. To be clear, this matter does not involve in any way Wi-Fi access in hotel guestrooms or lobby spaces.

The question at hand is what measures a network operator can take to detect and contain rogue and imposter Wi-Fi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat to meeting or conference attendees or cause interference to the conference guest wireless network.

In light of the increased use of wireless technology to launch cyber-attacks and purposefully disrupt hotel networks, Marriott along with the American Hotel & Lodging Association on behalf of the entire hotel industry is seeking clarity from the FCC regarding what lawful measures a network operator can take to prevent such attacks from occurring. We feel this is extremely important as we are increasingly being asked what measures we take to protect our conference and meeting guests and the conference groups that are using Wi-Fi technology in our hotels.

In their petition there is nothing that clarifies this in and of itself.

Of note however, is also that this would be a special exception if the FCC allowed this. Federal law prohibits jammers and the FCC has a specific page regarding that. At the top of the page there is even an alert regarding the law and calling out jamming Wi-Fi.

What do you think of Marriott’s petition? Do you think Wi-Fi hotspots should be protected? Tell us in the comments below!

Don Parsons

News Editor

I've been a gamer for years of various types starting with the Sega Genesis and Shining Force when I was young. If I'm not playing video games, I'm often roleplaying, reading, writing, or pondering things brought up by speculative fiction.