Freedom. Freedom is the most cherished and prized thing that every American holds dear and when that freedom is infringed upon we tend to get a little feisty. Last October, the Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott International a total of $600,000 for intentionally jamming some of its customers’ WiFi connections in the meeting space at Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center in Nashville.
FCC & Marriott
Marriott claimed that it blocked third-party WiFi connections in meeting spaces in order to protect its own network and customers from “imposter” hotspots and other potential attacks that could compromise cybersecurity and put data at risk. Complaints were varied and included users saying that Marriott prevented users from “connecting to the internet via their own personal WiFi networks when these users did not pose a threat to the security of the Gaylord Opryland.” Essentially, the real reason was so Marriott could receive revenues from fees charged to access the internet through the hotel’s wireless network.
Right after agreeing to pay the fine Marriott filed a petition with the FCC asking for an explanation of the legal measures the venue can take to prevent malicious attacks on its wireless network. Specifically, Marriott asked the FCC to state that “the operation of FCC-authorized equipment by a WiFi operator in managing its network on its premises does not violate FCC rules, even though it may result in ‘interference with or cause interference’ to a Part 15 device being used by a guest on the operator’s property.”
Marriot Clarifies Intentions
Naturally people were a little upset about all of this and Marriott quickly issued a statement in December that clarified that it never intended to stop quests from using their own WiFi hotspots. In addition to that, Marriott stated that no part of the petition related to internet access in guest rooms or lobbies. However, Marriott’s statement continued saying, “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.”
A comments section of the petition showed many individuals and companies expressed opinions on both sides of the argument. Smart City Networks stated that granting the ability of a venue to block potentially rogue WiFi hotspots was not an attempt to jam customers. The comment stated, “Parties opposing the Petition raise concerns that, read broadly, grant of the Petition would create a ‘carte blanche right to interfere’ with the operations of lawful devices operating on other WiFi networks, particularly for unfair financial gain. Smart City and others who support the Petition, however, are not advocating ‘carte blanche right to interfere’.”
FCC Setting A Precedent
On the other side of the argument, the Consumer Electronics Association submitted a comment stating, “While there is a pressing need for network management and security for WiFi systems, the Commission should affirm that WiFi operators may not transmit de-authentication frames to third-party WiFi systems or devices. Network management and security practices are critical but should be limited to an operator’s own system, not the WiFi systems of other service providers.”
The time for comments has ended and the FCC has still yet to respond to the petition. However, Marriott issued a second response to the whole situation, stating that it will not block WiFi devices. “Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal WiFi devices at any of our managed hotels.” In addition to that, the company also added that it will “continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data.”
Sum It Up
This is definitely a very interesting situation and it boils down to the simple question of whether or not any hotel or convention venue, has the right to jam third party Wi-Fi preventing guests from connecting to their standard mobile internet carriers even if done to enhance network security. Or, if the rights of the individuals to access their own Wi-Fi is absolute, regardless of their location. When the FCC responds we will know for sure which of these concerns will be at the forefront of Wi-Fi rights for the next century.