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Marriott drops its fight to block Wi-Fi hotspots

Following consumer complaints and an FCC fine, the hotel chain withdraws an appeal that had asked the federal agency for some leniency in name of customer security.

Marriott will no longer pester the FCC over the issue of blocking Wi-Fi hotspots.

Marriott has fully given up its fight with the FCC for the right to block, under certain circumstances, Wi-Fi hotspots set up by its guests.

Last year, the hotel chain got itself into trouble with the Federal Communications Commission when it 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," according to the agency. As a result, Marriott was hit by the FCC with a $600,000 fine.

In the face of such opposition, the company dropped its policy of blocking such hotspot networks but said it would continue to appeal to the FCC to clarify how it could secure such networks without necessarily blocking them outright. But now Marriott had decided to drop the matter entirely and will no longer bother the FCC with this request.

The company based its action to block hotspots on the belief that such networks can create security problems. Guests could potentially connect to such hotspots and risk being victimized by hackers. But by blocking hotspots, Marriott was forcing its guests to pay for access to its own "secure" network, a move that was seen by many as an attempt to rake it more money.

In January, the FCC made its position clear by releasing a statement affirming that Marriott's action was illegal:

The Communications Act prohibits anyone from willfully or maliciously interfering with authorized radio communications, including Wi-Fi. 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.

In a statement released on Friday, Marriott explained its decision to withdraw its request to the FCC and tried to smooth over some ruffled features:

Marriott International has decided to withdraw as a party to the petition seeking direction from the FCC on legal Wi-Fi security measures. Our intent was to protect personal data in Wi-Fi hotspots for large conferences. We thought we were doing the right thing asking the FCC to provide guidance, but the FCC has indicated its opposition. As we have said, we will not block Wi-Fi signals at any hotel we manage for any reason. And, as of January 15, we provide free Wi-Fi to all members of our Marriott Rewards program who book directly with us. We're doing everything we can to promote our customers' connectivity using mobile and other devices, and we're working with the industry to find security solutions that do not involve blocking our guests' use of their Wi-Fi devices.

Just last week, the FCC reiterated its stance on the issue, sending out an enforcement advisory that blocking an individual's personal Wi-Fi hotspot is illegal and subject to hefty fines.

(Via Engadget)