The battle over hotel Wi-Fi is not merely whether it is provided for free or for a fee: There is also a fight at the FCC that boils down to the issue of whether guests essentially will be forced to use a property’s Wi-Fi network or whether they can bring their own.
The FCC several months ago fined Marriott $600,000 for the practice of jamming conference attendees’ personal Wi-Fi hotspots in ballrooms at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Marriott and the American Hotel & Lodging Association subsequently petitioned the FCC asking for a declaratory ruling or a rulemaking that would effectively endorse the practice that Marriott got fined for.
In the last couple of weeks Marriott has picked up support in its quest from fellow AH&LA member Hilton Worldwide while Google and Microsoft have filed comments arguing that the law bars such jamming efforts, which harm consumers.
re/code first reported on some of the latest filings with the FCC, noting “Microsoft and Google don’t agree on much, but they’ve presented a united front against the hotel industry, which is trying to convince government regulators to give them the option of blocking guests from using personal Wi-Fi hotspots.”
Google argued that current FCC rules give operators adequate flexibility to manage their Wi-Fi networks, but this does not mean operators should be allowed to intentionally block other Wi-Fi networks “particularly where the purpose or effect of that interference is to drive traffic to the interfering operator’s own network (often for a fee).”
Google argues that the FCC decided against the exact practices that Marriott is seeking to have authorized and there is no need to revisit the issue.
“Consumers increasingly rely on Wi-Fi and VoIP technologies to make calls when carrier voice service is not available, and this includes calls to emergency services,” Google states. “Especially in a place of public accommodation, disconnecting network connections on which users rely puts health and safety at risk.”
Microsoft similarly argues in its FCC filing that the commission has repeatedly ruled that Wi-Fi jamming and interference is prohibited “and removing such protection would do harm to consumer welfare and the public interest.”
Hilton Worldwide chimed in, as well, in support of the AH&LA and Marriott petition, arguing that Wi-Fi operators such as hotels should be allowed to block other Wi-Fi networks for reliability and cybersecurity reasons.
Hilton notes that it is rolling out mobile and other online services to enable mobile check-ins and room choice, and in 2015 will introduce “mobile-enabled room keys.”
Hilton Worldwide’s guests and conference attendees should be able to use the hotel’s Wi-Fi without fear of network congestion or cyber attacks, the chain states.
“In short, Hilton is not seeking to use reasonable network management techniques as a pretext to compel guests to purchase Wi-Fi services from Hilton when visiting one of its hotels,” the chain states.
Interested parties had 30 days to comment on the petition beginning November 19.