Security Experts:

FCC Slaps Marriott With $600,000 Fine for Jamming Wi-Fi Hotspots

Marriott Claims it Jammed Wi-Fi Hotspots to Protect Customers Against Threats Posed by Rogue Wireless Networks.

Marriott International, Inc. and its subsidiary Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. will pay a civil penalty of $600,000 for using features of Wi-Fi monitoring systems to block guests from accessing the Internet through their personal hotspots, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on Friday.

According to the FCC, Marriott prevented its guests from using their personal Wi-Fi networks in the conference facilities at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. By doing so, the hotel violated section 333 of the Communications Act, the FCC said.

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau launched an investigation after someone complained last year that they had been blocked from using their personal hotspot at the conference facility. In some cases, Marriott employees interrupted Wi-Fi transmission by sending out de-authentication packets that would dissociate the access point from the visitor's device.

At the same time, Marriott had charged attendees and exhibitors between $250 and $1,000 per device for using Gaylord Opryland's own Wi-Fi service.

In addition to paying the $600,000 fine, Marriott has agreed to stop the unlawful use of Wi-Fi blocking technology, develop and implement a compliance plan, and file compliance and usage reports every three months for a period of three years, the FCC said.

 "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. "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." 

In a statement published after the FCC's ruling, Marriott noted that the jamming of unknown hotspots was done in an effort to protect customers against the threats posed by rogue wireless networks.

 "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," the company stated. "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."

 

view counter
Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.