Marriott Drops Petition Asking the FCC to Allow WiFi Blocking

NEWS ANALYSIS: The hotel chain withdraws its petition seeking permission to block WiFi hotspots at its hotel properties as a security measure.

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Marriott International has told eWEEK that the company has decided to drop its petition for rulemaking that would allow the hotel chain to block personal WiFi hotspots in conference and meeting facilities.

"Marriott International has decided to withdraw as a party to the petition seeking direction from the [Federal Communications Commission] on legal WiFi security measures," Bruce Hoffmeister, global CIO for Marriott, said in a statement provided to eWEEK.

Marriott was fined for blocking WiFi hotspots at one of its properties in 2014. The blocking took place in conference areas and not in guest rooms. In January 2015, Marriott said that it would not block guest access to WiFi.

Hoffmeister reiterated that stance in the Jan. 30 statement provided to eWEEK. "As we have said, we will not block WiFi signals at any hotel we manage for any reason."

While the Marriott statement focuses on security, the company and the FCC were flooded with complaints that the real reason was so that Marriott could charge for WiFi use in its meeting facilities, which can cost as much as $1,000 per access point.

However, Marriot never admitted that was the reason it blocked WiFi signals. "Our intent was to protect personal data in WiFi hotspots for large conferences. We thought we were doing the right thing asking the FCC to provide guidance, but the FCC has indicated its opposition."

Hoffmeister said Marriott remains concerned about the security of its customers' communications. "We're doing everything we can to promote our customers' connectivity using mobile and other devices, and we're working with the industry to find security solutions that do not involve blocking our guests' use of their WiFi devices."

This all started when Marriott started interfering with customers' abilities to access their personal hot spots in the conference center at one of the company's hotels. As you might expect, some of Marriott's customers objected and they went to the FCC with their complaints.

The FCC found that the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., was in violation of the laws that bar intentional interference and slapped a $600,000 fine on the hotel. Marriott paid the fine, but it filed a petition with the FCC asking that it be allowed to continue the practice of blocking WiFi.

The petition by Marriott and the American Hotel and Lodging Association was filed in August 2014, but flew beneath the radar until the FCC announced that Marriott had settled in October.

Other groups, including Hilton Hotels, joined Marriott. Since that happened, a firestorm of customer complaints was directed against Marriott, which in mid-January, cried uncle. "Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal WiFi devices at any of our managed hotels," the company said in a press release.

Now that Marriott has dropped its petition, presumably the AHLA will do the same, but at this point, the organization has not publicly stated its intentions.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...