Marriott International’s hopes to jam bring-your-own Wi-Fi devices and other networks during conferences at its hotels has been resoundingly rejected by the public, including business travelers and frequent Marriott customers, in public comments to the Federal Communications Commission.
In fact, all 38 comments posted by the FCC about the issue to date expressed opposition to Marriott’s Wi-Fi jamming hopes, which were backed by Hilton Worldwide and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group, but opposed by Google and Microsoft. (The FCC actually posted 39 comments, and one was neutral or off-topic.)
The barrage of opposition comments prompted Marriott to issue a clarifying statement on December 30:
“To set the record straight it has never been nor will it ever be Marriott’s policy to limit our guests’ ability to access the Internet by all available means, including through the use of personal Mi-Fi and/or Wi-Fi devices. As a matter of fact, we invite and encourage our guests to use these Internet connectivity devices in our hotels. To be clear, this matter does not involve in any way Wi-Fi access in hotel guestrooms or lobby spaces.” [See the full statement at the end of this post.]
To make matters worse for Marriott, the New York Times came out with an editorial January 3, headlined Brazen Attempts by Hotels to Block Wi-Fi, urging the FCC “not [to] give hotels the power to block Wi-Fi devices that many customers rely on.”
Marriott Was Fined But Now Seeks Clarification
The FCC recently fined Marriott $600,000 for jamming travelers’ personal hotspots at a conference at one of its properties in Nashville in 2013, and in August the AH&LA and Marriott filed a petition with the FCC seeking to clarify the law about such jamming practices.
The FCC opened a public comment period about the issue and that’s where Marriott and the AH&LA has confronted a 38-0 shutout, with all of the comments opposed to allowing Marriott and other hotels to block personal hotspots in conference rooms or anywhere in hotels.
People commenting to the FCC complained about the quality of Marriott’s Wi-Fi, saying the quality is often so poor that it jeopardizes being able to adequately keep in contact with travelers’ employers and others, and therefore access to personal hotspots is required.
Several commenters wrote that Marriott is pursuing such a policy strictly for financial gain so it can force customers to pay for Marriott’s Wi-Fi. Others stated that existing law clearly bars such jamming efforts, and Marriott should purchase spectrum if it wants to carry out such practices.
Quality of Marriott Wi-Fi Disparaged
For example, John Wilker of Denver noted in his comment to the FCC that he often organizes events in hotels, and that some of Marriott’s properties offer “the most useless wifi ever.”
“… as an event organizer who’s paid the exorbitant fees for internet access for a group, and watched as that same wifi fails under the load forcing attendees to use their own phones and tablets as hotspots, it would reflect terribly on me and the property if the property kept my customers from using their own hotspots,” Wilkins wrote. [See his full comments, as well as comments from two other people, embedded below.]
Robert McCroskey of Stockbridge, Georgia, identified himself as a frequent business traveler who has stayed a properties, including several Marriott properties, where the hotel’s internal Wi-Fi didn’t work properly for a variety of reasons.
“Because of these issues, I’ve been required to switch to my personal Wi-Fi device while inside the hotel property such that I could conduct my normal business duties,” McCroskey wrote to the FCC.
“My particular business activity involves technically supporting Public Safety voice & data communications systems,” McCroskey adds. “If I’m inhibited in performing my tasks in timely manner, needless to say, severe complications may arise. For these reasons, I’ve made arrangements to provide alternate methods of connection to our corporate network. Consenting to this Petition will effectively disable one of my emergency data paths and limit my operational abilities.”
Is Network Security the Issue?
David Hill, who identified himself in his comment as a “frequent business traveler,” argues that Marriott is concerned about more than security issues.
Hill wrote: “I am writing solely as a private citizen who frequently travels on business. The application by Marriott (et al.) is clearly motivated not by concerns over security but to force attendees at conferences or people staying at their facilities to pay (dearly) for WiFi services that they can otherwise obtain on their own, through use of the free market to purchase their own mobile hot spots.
“It strikes me as akin to a hotel insisting that people staying there can only eat at the hotel restaurant, out of concerns for ‘food safety.’
“Interference with a public, unowned frequency pool and increasingly pervasive communication technology, for pecuniary purposes, strikes me as precisely the sort of thing that the FCC was intended to prevent. I urge you to reject the petition and make it clear under what, if any, narrowly defined circumstances interference with hot spots is allowed.”
Here’s Marriott’s full December 30 statement about the issue:
Marriott’s Response to FCC Petition Filing
“We understand there have been concerns regarding our position on the FCC petition filing, perhaps due to a lack of clarity about the issue. To set the record straight it has never been nor will it ever be Marriott’s policy to limit our guests’ ability to access the Internet by all available means, including through the use of personal Mi-Fi and/or Wi-Fi devices. As a matter of fact, we invite and encourage our guests to use these Internet connectivity devices in our hotels. To be clear, this matter does not involve in any way Wi-Fi access in hotel guestrooms or lobby spaces.
“The question at hand is what measures a network operator can take to detect and contain rogue and imposter Wi-Fi 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.
“In light of the increased use of wireless technology to launch cyber-attacks and purposefully disrupt hotel networks, Marriott along with the American Hotel & Lodging Association on behalf of the entire hotel industry is seeking clarity from the FCC regarding what lawful measures a network operator can take to prevent such attacks from occurring. We feel this is extremely important as we are increasingly being asked what measures we take to protect our conference and meeting guests and the conference groups that are using Wi-Fi technology in our hotels.”