Hotel owners seek ability to block hotel Wi-Fi access
by James O’Connor
Marriott International and the American Hotel and Lodging Association are asking the Federal Communications Commission to give hotels the go ahead to remotely disable the Wi-Fi devices that some travelers use to connect their laptops and tablet computers to the Internet through cellular services from companies like Verizon. This would force guests to purchase the wireless Internet service provided by hotels.
The hotel industry has asked the commission to create an exception to rules that prohibit anyone from “willful or malicious interference” with wireless communications that are “licensed or authorized” by the government. The industry claims that because Wi-Fi signals use unlicensed frequencies, they do not deserve the same protection as licensed services like cellphone networks.
In October, the F.C.C. fined Marriott $600,000 for preventing customers from using their own Wi-Fi devices at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville. The commission said the hotel was charging people attending and exhibiting at a conference $250 to $1,000 per device to connect to the hotel-operated Wi-Fi service.
Hotel industry officials say they want to protect guests from rogue Wi-Fi networks that are designed by criminals to look as though they are part of hotel-operated Wi-Fi systems and that are used to hack into travelers’ computers.
Marriott said last week that its intention is misunderstood. The hotel chain is only interested in blocking access to Mi-Fi devices in its conference spaces — not its hotel rooms or lobbies.
“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,” the company said in a statement. “As a matter of fact, we invite and encourage our guests to use these Internet connectivity devices in our hotels.”
Marriott said that conference attendees can launch cyber attacks on the company’s network or disrupt Wi-Fi service for the conference or guests using Wi-Fi hotspots. That’s why Marriott wants the FCC to give it permission to “detect and contain rogue and imposter Wi-Fi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat.”
Image: Flickr/Kevin Dooley