Here's some payback for everyone who has felt gouged by hotel charges for Wi-Fi service: Marriott International has to pay US$600,000 following a probe into whether it intentionally blocked personal Wi-Fi hotspots in order to force customers to use its own very pricey service.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission looked into allegations that employees of Marriott's Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville used signal-blocking features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system to prevent customers from connecting to the Internet through their personal Wi-Fi hotspots, the regulator said in its consent decree. The hotel charged customers and exhibitors $250 to $1,000 per device to access Marriott's Wi-Fi network.
The hotel's Wi-Fi blocking violated the U.S. Communications Act, the FCC said.
"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," FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement. "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."
A Marriott spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.
The FCC received a complaint in March 2013 from a person who attended an event at the Gaylord Opryland. The hotel was "jamming mobile hotspots so that you can't use them in the convention space," the complaint alleged.
The FCC Enforcement Bureau, during an investigation, found that employees of Marriott used a Wi-Fi monitoring system to target guest-created Wi-Fi hotspots, in some cases disconnecting customers' devices from their own hotspot access points.
Marriott, under the terms of the consent decree, must stop using Wi-Fi blocking technology and change how it monitors and uses Wi-Fi at the hotel. Marriott must also create a compliance plan and file compliance reports with the FCC every three months for three years, including descriptions of any access-point containment technologies the company uses at any of its U.S. properties, the agency said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is email@example.com.