Marriott International has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle accusations that some of its staff members were blocking mobile hotspots created by guests and charging the patrons up to $1,000 per device to connect to the hotel's Wi-Fi.
While Marriott hasn't admitted to any wrongdoing, the hotel chain says it's in its best interest to ensure that its guests use the Wi-Fi services it offers. The hotel's Wi-Fi services protect guest from "rogue wireless hotspots" that can be used to undermine Internet service and to launch cyberattacks.
"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," a Marriott International representative stated. "We believe that the Gaylord 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."
The Federal Communications Commission says it launched an investigation into Marriott International's practices after fielding a March 2013 complaint from an individual who alleged the staff at the Gaylord Opryland were using signal jammers inside of the hotel's convention center.
The FCC says its enforcement bureau discovered that Marriott International was managing the Gaylord Opryland hotel, and had been doing so since 2012. The commission says the hotel's staff was using equipment to sniff out Wi-Fi hotspots created by guests and then actively blocking the frequencies on which the transmissions were operating.
While ensuring there were no other Wi-Fi hotspots to compete with its own, the Gaylord Opryland staff is said to have charged guests between $250 to $1,000 per device to connect to the hotel's 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 Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc.
Marriott International asserts that it was using FCC-approved equipment at the Gaylord Opryland and maintains that it was operating within the bounds of the law. However, the FCC has ordered the Marriott International to cease "unlawful use of Wi-Fi blocking technology" and to take steps to improve its Internet monitoring practices.
"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," said LeBlanc. "This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether."