Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Hotels want ability to block consumer Wi-Fi access

By Erik Sherman MoneyWatch January 7, 2015

Tired of the high costs of Internet access at hotels? If so and you own a smartphone, chances are that you've happily set up its Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless connected your laptop or tablet to it.

Now hotels seek permission to block that ability and force people back to sanctioned services. Marriott, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and Ryman Hospitality Properties, which owns several resorts, have asked the Federal Communications Commission to declare that they can cause interference with customer Wi-Fi hotspots. A decision in their favor would effectively allow hotels to block consumer devices, making business-provided services the only choice.

According to the petition to the FCC, the industry has framed the issue as ensuring that a hotel's network management equipment would not be liable for any interference it might cause with customer hotspots.


By using network management equipment, any Wi-Fi provider could effectively block another hotspot, like one from a cellphone, without technically employing signal jammers, which, as the petitioners admit, "have no lawful consumer use in the United States."

Hotels have a financial interest in convincing consumers to use the official Internet services. The average cost to provide Wi-Fi to a given hotel room is about $2.50 to $4.50 a month. Hotels turn around and charge an average of $13.95 a day.


Last October, Mariott agreed to pay a $600,000 fine to resolve an FCC investigation into whether the chain "intentionally interfered with and disabled Wi-Fi networks established by consumers in the conference facilities" of one of its properties. According to the FCC, "Marriott employees had used containment features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system at the Gaylord Opryland to prevent individuals from connecting to the Internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks, while at the same time charging consumers, small businesses, and exhibitors as much as $1,000 per device to access Marriott's Wi-Fi network."


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