A federal agency and the Marriott hotel chain have reached an agreement that Marriott will pay a $600,000 penalty for using Wi-Fi jammers to slow down customers' personal hotspots.
The Federal Communications Commission began investigating Marriott's Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville after reports it was using Wi-Fi blocking features to force people to pay for Wi-Fi.
"Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center," said Travis LeBlanc, FCC Enforcement Bureau chief. "It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel's own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether."
While Wi-Fi is included as part of the hotel's $18 per night resort fee, users can upgrade to an "enhanced speed" for $6.99 per day, or create a custom private network for business customers, ranging from $250 to $1,000 per access point.
Under the terms of the consent decree, Marriott must stop using jamming technology at its hotels and must also change how it operates and monitors Wi-Fi use at the hotel.
According to Marriott, however, the blocking was aimed at protecting (subscription required) guests from "rogue wireless hotspots that could cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft."
"We believe that the Opryland's actions were lawful," said Marriott spokesperson Jeff Flaherty in a statement. "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."
There are a number of reasons customers would want to have their own hotspot, even besides the cost factor. For example, hotels often block websites that someone may need, either for work or otherwise. Also, normally, peer-to-peer media and streaming is throttled.
The complaint against the hotel was first filed in March 2013 from a customer who said the hotel was "jamming mobile hotspots so that you can't use them in the convention space."
In some cases, investigators found employees of the Marriott even disconnected customers from hotspots altogether.
Marriott must also create a compliance plan and file compliance reports with the FCC every three months for a total of three years. This is to include any access-point containment technologies used by the hotels.