FCC Says No Blocking of Wi-Fi Hot Spots, Period

Marriott's Self-Management Request Deemed Out of Bounds

If the Federal Communications Commission's recent fine of Marriott for blocking guests' use of WiFi hot spots was not enough of a signal, the agency's Enforcement Bureau has put an exclamation point on it: No blocking, period!

That came in an Enforcement Advisory issued by the bureau: "WARNING: WiFi Blocking Is Prohibited: Persons or businesses causing intentional  interference to Wi-Fi hot spots are subject to enforcement action," the advisory said.

The bureau pointed to its consent decree with Marriott, which admitted it had deliberately blocked consumers trying to use their on WiFi hot spots. Marriott said it was for security reasons, but the FCC saw it as trying to force those consumers to pay for the hotel's Wi-Fi service.

"No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi-Fi network," the enforcement bureau said. "Such action is illegal, and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler added a second exclamation point. “Consumers must get what they pay for," he said in a statement. "The Communications Act prohibits anyone from willfully or maliciously interfering with authorized radio communications, including WiFi. Marriott’s request seeking the FCC’s blessing to block guests’ use of non-Marriott networks is contrary to this basic principle.

"Protecting consumers from this kind of interference is a priority area for the FCC Enforcement Bureau.  The Enforcement Bureau recently imposed a $600,000 fine on Marriott for this kind of conduct, and the FCC will continue to enforce the Communications Act if others act similarly.”

Marriott last week followed through on its agreement with the FCC to stop limiting guests' WiFi use. But separately, Marriott, joined by the American Hotel and Lodging Association and Ryman Hospitality properties, had last August asked the FCC for either a declaratory ruling that it was allowed to manage its Wi-Fi on-premises network as it saw fit or, in the alternative, to open a rulemaking on the issue.

Sounds like Wheeler has supplied his own ruling in the declaration that Marriott's request is contrary to the Communications Act.