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Marriott removes ban on personal Wi-Fi networks in hotels

In light of customer protests, Marriott stops blocking personal hot spots, but continues to seek guidance from FCC on how to maintain Internet security at hotels.

Marriott has backed off blocking personal Wi-Fi -- for now.

Hotel chain Marriott said in a statement Wednesday that it will stop preventing customers from using personal Wi-Fi hot spots and charging them fees to use Marriott's Wi-Fi network instead.

The decision comes just three months after Marriott was fined $600,000 by the Federal Communications Commission for using "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." The complaint dated back to 2013.

Marriott didn't shy away from the charges, saying it believed the Opryland hotel, which it owns, was acting lawfully. The company told CNN in a statement that the hotel's stance on banning personal hot spots was designed to protect its visitors "from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyberattacks and identity theft."

Marriott's argument centers on the belief that personal devices that create hot spots -- everything from wireless MiFi devices to smartphones -- can create a security issue. Unwitting targets could connect to those networks and potentially fall victim to malicious hackers looking to steal data. The company has said that by blocking those networks and forcing customers to pay for access to the hotel network, it's providing security that customers desire.

Marriott isn't alone in its stance. This past summer, a group of hotel chains issued a request to the FCC, asking for permission to block personal hot spots based on the group's belief that personal hot spots could cause undue security issues in hotels. The FCC has yet to rule on the topic, and many major technology companies -- including Microsoft and Google -- have argued that blocking personal hot spots is wrong. The wireless industry organization CTIA also has criticized the hotels, saying that hotel guests have the right to use their personal cellular networks whenever they'd like.

Indeed that was the case with Marriott. Guests came out in droves to criticize the hotel's argument, saying that Marriott's security policy was little more than a money-making scheme. Protestors said Marriott didn't want to lose the revenue it could generate off its wireless network and, therefore, blocked personal hot spots to safeguard that revenue stream.

Last month, Marriott responded, saying that its focus was on protecting meeting rooms and business areas, -- not guest rooms -- but that did little to quell unrest, which prompted Wednesday's statement.

Care2, an online advocacy group, praised Marriott's move. "Care2 members are calling on the American Hospitality and Lodging Association to do the same and curb this disturbing attempt to obstruct hotel guests' access to the Internet," Randy Paynter, CEO of Care2, said in a statement.

Despite its decision to now allow personal hot spots, Marriott has stopped short of putting the issue to rest. The company said in its statement on Wednesday that it will "continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of Wi-Fi devices."

Marriott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Via Inc.)