by Michael J. Shapiro | October 06, 2014
Marriott International has agreed to pay a $600,000 civil penalty to resolve a Federal Communications Commission investigation into whether the lodging company intentionally disabled personal Wi-Fi hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Pursuant to a customer complaint in March 2013, the FCC found that employees at the venue were using a Wi-Fi monitoring system to contain and/or de-authenticate hotspot access points that guests had created in the conference facilities. Meanwhile, Marriott charged exhibitors and other attendees between $250 and $1,000 per device to use the Gaylord Wi-Fi service. "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 FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc in a written statement. "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."

"We believe that the Gaylord Opryland's actions were lawful," Marriott responded to the ruling. "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." Marriott went on to encourage the FCC to develop rules around the practice that eliminate customer confusion. Under the terms of the agreement between the two parties, Marriott must cease using Wi-Fi blocking technology and "take significant steps" to improve how it monitors Wi-Fi usage at the Gaylord Opryland. In addition to paying the penalty, Marriott must file a report with the FCC Enforcement Bureau every three months for the next three years.