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FCC: Marriott blocked guests' personal Wi-Fi, charged for Net access

Federal Communications Commission fines Marriott $600,000 after deciding it illegally interfered with conventiongoers' hot spots in Nashville. Marriott says it did nothing wrong.

The FCC says that at this sumptuous Marriott resort in Nashville, Tenn., Marriott employees blocked personal Wi-Fi hot spots and charged scalding prices for their own. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Do you trust hotel Wi-Fi?

Or do you, like me, always bring personal Wi-Fi capability with you, in the hope that you won't have to pay hotels' often exorbitant Wi-Fi fees?

Sometimes my Wi-Fi doesn't -- for uncertain reasons -- work so well. This was an experience encountered by conventiongoers at Marriott's Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.

One guest decided this was fishy and reported the hotel to the FCC. The accusation was that the resort was "jamming mobile hot spots so that you can't use them in the convention space."

The FCC yesterday announced that Marriott will pay $600,000 in fines.

In its judgment, the FCC said "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."

Some might regard that as a lowbrow way to make high profits. The accusations continue:

"In some cases, employees sent de-authentication packets to the targeted access points, which would dissociate consumers' devices from their own Wi-Fi hot-spot access points and, thus, disrupt consumers' current Wi-Fi transmissions and prevent future transmissions."

That does sound mean. Now Marriott must not only commit to ceasing such practices at all its properties, but also to undergoing compliance checks every three months for the next three years. This compliance must include "information documenting any use of access point containment features at any US property that Marriott manages or owns."

The hotel group, though, insists it did nothing wrong.

As CNN reported, the group issued a statement. It read, in part: "Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyberattacks 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."

It seems, though, that the FCC decided that Marriott was the rogue here.

But the hotel group insisted: "We believe that the 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."

A $600,000 fine doesn't sound too confusing. The larger issue, though, is whether other hotels exercise this sort of method to nickel, dime and gouge their way to profits.

Hotels have found all sorts of technological ways to make more money. For example, some prevent guests from setting their own temperatures in rooms (Yes, there's an iPhone app for that).

Guests don't always know what is going on.

Might it be an idea to now offer Wi-Fi as a free staple? You know, like a pillow or a bathroom? We'll forgo the chocolate on the pillow as a gesture of goodwill.