Hotels and Conference Centers Blocking WiFi
A client of mine was charged $5000 for a wireless room drop for a ballroom I was working in. Before they gave us this room drop I had a hotspot which I had running so we could download images and fonts for the presentation computers. I was told this was illegal and against policy. I explained that we had free wifi in our guests room and it was free in the lobby. Shall we just work from there? The conference salesperson said sorry and it was policy. This never made sense to me and was one of those things that need to be forced to make a sensible choice. Marriott took the next step and blocked customers from using hotspots which was the tipping point for the whole industry.
Today the FCC released:
WARNING: Wi-Fi Blocking is Prohibited
Persons or Businesses Causing Intentional Interference to Wi-Fi Hot Spots Are Subject to Enforcement Action
In the 21st Century, Wi-Fi represents an essential on-ramp to the Internet. Personal Wi-Fi networks, or “hot spots,” are an important way that consumers connect to the Internet. Willful
or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hot spots is illegal. Wi-Fi blocking violates Section 333 of
the Communications Act, as amended.1 The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment’s premises. As a result, the Bureau is protecting consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference.
In 2014, the Enforcement Bureau conducted an investigation, culminating with a Consent Decree, into this kind of unlawful activity by the operator of a resort hotel and convention center.2 In that case, Marriott International, Inc. deployed a Wi-Fi deauthentication protocol to deliberately block consumers who sought to connect to the Internet using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots. Marriott admitted that the customers it blocked did not pose a security threat to the Marriott network and agreed to settle the investigation by paying a civil penalty of $600,000.
Following the settlement, the Enforcement Bureau has received several complaints that other commercial Wi-Fi network operators may be disrupting the legitimate operation of personal WiFi hot spots. The Bureau is investigating such complaints and will take appropriate action against violators.
What is Prohibited? No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi-Fi network. Such action is illegal and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties.3
In addition, we reiterate that Federal law prohibits the operation, marketing, or sale of any type of jamming equipment, including devices that interfere with Wi-Fi, cellular, or public safety communications. Detailed information about the prohibition against jamming is available on the Commission’s website at http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/jammer-enforcement.
What Should You Do if You Suspect Wi-Fi Blocking? If you have reason to believe your
personal Wi-Fi hot spot has been blocked, you can file a complaint with the FCC. To do so, you
can visit www.fcc.gov/complaints or call 1-888-CALL-FCC. If you contact the FCC, you are
encouraged to provide as much detail as possible regarding the potential Wi-Fi blocking,
including the date, time, location, and possible source.
Need More Information? Media inquiries should be directed to Neil Grace at 202-418-0506 or
[email protected] For general information on the FCC, you may contact the FCC at 1-888-
CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) or visit our website at www.fcc.gov. To request materials in
accessible formats for people with disabilities (Braille, large print, electronic files, audio format),
send an e-mail to [email protected] or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-
418-0530 (voice), 202-418-0432 (TTY).