FCC Seeks Comment On Wi-Fi Network Management

Marriott Wants Declaratory Ruling on Issue

Some major hotel and real estate operations, including Marriott, want the FCC to clarify just how they can manage their Wi-Fi networks.

Last month, Marriott agreed to pay $600,000 to settle FCC allegations that it has improperly blocked mobile hot spots at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville (pictured).

Marriott employees used a monitoring system to identify and prevent individuals from connecting to the Internet via their own Wi-Fi nets, while charging consumers, businesses and exhibitors up to $1,000 per device to access Marriott's own Wi-Fi network.

But, separately, last August Marriott joined by the American Hospitality and Lodging Association and Ryman Hospitality properties 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.

On Nov. 19, the FCC opened a comment period on the petition (Commlawblog.com reported the public notice).

The hotel operators want to know the extent to which they can manage their networks without running afoul of FCC rules that say that "[n]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications..." They would prefer that the FCC declare that a Wi-Fi network operator does not violate that by using FCC-authorized equipment to "mitigate threats" to the security and reliability of their networks."

They argue that they need to be able to do so given that almost any smart phone or tablet can now serve as its own Wi-Fi hot spot from which an attack on their network can be launched.

And while network management sounds like a network neutrality issue, the hotels say that the petition does not implicate network neutrality because they do not apply to "premise operators" like coffee shops and bookstores that acquire Wi-Fi access from ISPs.

The FCC has given interested parties until mid-December to weigh in.