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Marriott Petitions FCC to Block Personal Wi-Fi Hotspots

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Marriott is requesting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow the full implementation of blocking the hotel guests' personal Wi-Fi and Mi-Fi devices around its premises.

The hotel chain, which reasoned out that the request is based on security concerns, stated that guests can use their hotspot-enabled devices to compromise the hotel's network or to commit a data breach involving other guests.

The company further clarifies that the restriction is only applied at conference or meeting spaces and not in the hotel guest rooms.

"The question at hand is what measures a network operator can take to detect and contain rogue and imposter WiFi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat to meeting or conference attendees, or cause interference to the conference guest wireless network," said Marriott.

Three months ago, the Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott $600,000. The agency said that the hotel chain employed a blocking technology that knocked out the WiFi devices of their guests, exhibitors and others at the company's Opryland property in Nashville.

"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 WiFi network," said Travis LeBlanc, FCC's chief of the enforcement bureau.

Along with the FCC, there are several huge companies that are opposed to Marriott's petition. These include Microsoft, Google and the cell industry's trade group known as CTIA.

"If a customer arrives at a hotel with her own MiFi device, and the hotel interferes with the customer's connection to that personal hotspot, the hotel can effectively force the customer to purchase the hotel's WiFi services to gain access, even though the customer has already paid her mobile operator for personal hotspot capability," said Microsoft.

CTIA, on its part, had commented that "all Part 15 devices, including mobile devices that incorporate Part 15 capabilities, have equal rights to use unlicensed spectrum; no single entity may intentionally prevent others from using that spectrum."

These Part 15 devices, which had been identified by the FCC, have enjoyed a huge success in the U.S. and worldwide. Billions of these gadgets employ 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios which are unlicensed and run one of several other generations of WiFi or Bluetooth from the late 1990s.

What Marriott and some others have asked in the petition before the FCC is for the agency to amend or provide clarity to the rules concerning interference for unlicensed spectrum bands.

"They hope to gain the right to use network-management tools to quash WiFi networks on their premises that they don't approve of. In its view, this is necessary to ensure customer security and to protect children," said Glenn Fleishman, a veteran technology journalist who is based in Seattle.

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