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Wi-Fi hotspot blocking persists despite FCC crackdown

Bob Brown | March 11, 2016
Our examination of complaints to FCC finds consumer suspicions about big name hotels even after large fines for Wi-Fi hotspot blocking were issued

Requests for comment to Sheraton, Motel 6, a WiFi Coalition supposedly addressing WiFi blocking for the International Association of Venue Managers and the American Gaming Association went unanswered. Marriott CIO Bruce Hoffmeister has communicated on the WiFi blocking subject by way of canned press statements. For this article, a Marriott spokesman shared the following statement:

"As we have stated, we do not block Wi-Fi signals at any hotel we manage for any reason. The policy across our managed hotels forbids blocking under any circumstances, and the capability within the networks to block is disabled.  As with most wireless technologies, WiFi is not a 100% reliable and at times people may assume that WiFi connectivity issues at any hotel — whether ours or not — is  due to the hotel engaging in blocking.  This is not the case.  To reiterate, Marriott does not block WiFi signals."

The hospitality and convention industries have been made well aware that Wi-Fi blocking is not allowed (here’s a warning issued by one hotel lawyer). It remains to be seen whether Wi-Fi Blocking will be a topic of any continued attention at hospitality/lodging industry conventions, such as this June’s big Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference, which hasn’t yet posted its agenda. However, HITEC does highlight a 2015 Lodging Technology Implementation report on its site that guest Wi-Fi is the top in-room technology that survey respondents from the hospitality industry said they thought was worth investing in.

Wi-Fi Hotspot Device Blocking Complaints

Given that the hospitality industry’s blocking antics extend from Wi-Fi hotspot devices to press inquiries, we went directly to the consumers, by way of the FOIA request to the FCC. Perusing the consumer complaints makes for illuminating reading, even though some of the comments are only a sentence or two long, most with identifying information about the venue in question (some 200 of the 250 or so total complaints included in the FOIA request package related more to other aspects of Wi-Fi blocking, largely having to do with dissatisfaction with ISPs' promises). Complaints were collected via online forms as well as via a telephone hotline, and it’s clear that many of the objections were the products of an increasingly tech-savvy public.

Eight of the complaints at non-Marriott hotels made reference to the FCC's Marriott case, which clearly raised awareness of the Wi-Fi jamming practice.

“I believe that the Hilton Hotel in Phoenix is preventing wireless access by any wireless networks other than the for-pay wireless network they provide, as Marriott Hotels had

been found guilty of doing,” wrote a person from Napa, Calif., in late October of 2014.

“The ruling today with regard to Marriott blocking wi-fi reminded me of an issue I had a few months ago while staying at [a hotel] in Oakland,” wrote one person from Modesto, Calif., in early October 2014. “My hot spot was blocked and every attempt to surf pushed me to the hotel’s page… There are undoubtedly numerous hotels which do this, so the message that it is illegal needs to be more widely circulated.”


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