Marriott Hotels fined $600,000 for jamming personal Wi-Fi hotspots at its venues

Callum Tennent
October 6, 2014

Ever paid for Wi-Fi at a hotel before? It’s not pretty – not only can the process be rather time consuming and poorly plotted, but more often than not it’ll cost you an absolute fortune.

If you’re a frequent flier, it can make more sense to purchase a personal Wi-Fi hub or dongle. With these, you get an internet-only SIM from a carrier which can then be inserted into a special device providing you with hassle-free internet wherever you would normally receive phone signal.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Well as it so happens, the Marriott chain of hotels agreed. In fact it thought it was such a good idea that it decided to shut them down. It turns out that Marriott was deliberately jamming personal Wi-Fi signal within its hotels to force guests to use its hotel Wi-Fi. As such, the chain will be fined $600,000 by the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

It’s unknown if this was common practice throughout Marriott’s extensive hotel network, but it was caught red handed at its Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Centre in Nashville, Tennessee. The hotel would scan for Wi-Fi networks and then disrupt the users browsing them with de-authentication packets. The first complaint of such behaviour was lodged with the FCC in 2013, although Marriott had been operating that site since 2012.

With personal internet blocked, the Gaylord Opryland would then charge between $250 and $1,000 (!) per device to be connected to the hotel’s wireless network. This was deemed to be in gross violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act, which states that “no person shall wilfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorised by or under this chapter or operated by the United States Government”. The $600,000 fine was levied as a result.

Of course Marriott will now have to stop blocking guests, as well as comply with the FCC with regards to investigations and reports into its Wi-Fi facilities across its entire portfolio of properties.

Marriott released a statement following the incident…

“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. Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers. We believe that the Gaylord Opryland’s actions were lawful. We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today’s action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy.”

…which makes it sound less like it’s sorry and more like it’s sorry it got caught.


About the Author

Callum Tennent

International playboy/tech journalist.

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