Marriott has agreed to pay a $600,000 fine after the Federal Communications Commission found the company blocked consumer Wi-Fi networks last year during an event at a hotel and conference center in Nashville.
Last year, a conference attendee at the Opryland hotel in Nashville, Tennessee — which is managed by Marriott — found that the hotel was jamming devices in its ballrooms and complained to the Federal Communications Commission. In the complaint, the guest noted that the same thing happened previously at another Gaylord property. The block didn’t affect Wi-Fi access in guest rooms.
While jamming personal Wi-Fi connections, Marriott was charging conference organizers and exhibitors between $250 and $1,000, per access point, to use the Gaylord’s Wi-Fi connection. The FCC declined to release the initial guest complaint except if requested under the Freedom of Information Act, a process that can often take weeks, reports Boston.com.
"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.
Federal law prohibits people from using a device that interferes with cellular, GPS or wireless networks.
It's the first time the FCC has investigated a hotel property for blocking its guests' Wi-Fi, according to a senior FCC official with knowledge of the investigation. The unlawful blocking isn't "jamming" in the traditional sense, where someone uses a jammer device to block wireless signals. Instead, Marriott employees were using the hotel's own Wi-Fi system to block other people's hot spots, the FCC official told CNN.
Marriott said it believes its actions were legal.
"Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft," the company said in a statement. "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."
The company will push for the FCC to create rules that "eliminate the ongoing confusion" from the settlement, PC World reports.