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Marriott Pays FCC $600,000 For Blocking Guests' WiFi Hotspots

A Marriott property in Nashville, Tenn. was blocking guests from using their own mobile hotspots so that they would be forced, instead, to purchase WiFi from Marriott, the FCC said Friday.

Marriott on Friday agreed to pay $600,000 to the Federal Communications Commission after regulators accused the hotel chain of blocking guests from using their own mobile hotspots so that they would be forced, instead, to purchase Marriott's own Wi-Fi services.

According to a filing Friday from the FCC, Marriott employees at the chain's Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. used a Wi-Fi monitoring system that identified and ultimately blocked access to third-party, Wi-Fi access points not part of its own Wi-Fi network.

The result, according to the filing, is that conference goers were essentially forced to purchase Wi-Fi connectivity from the Marriott, which charges between $250 and $1,000 per wireless access point.

[Related: Ruckus Wireless Says New Cloud Wi-Fi Service Opens Doors For Partners]

According to a statement from FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc, it is "unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hot spots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel's own Wi-Fi network."

Marriott, for its part, denied any wrongdoing, and said it was only attempting to protect guests from "rogue wireless hotspots" that can potentially lead to cyber attacks or compromise network performance.

"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. We believe that the Gaylord Opryland's actions were lawful," Marriott said in a statement Friday. "We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today's action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy."

The FCC said it launched an investigation into the matter after receiving a complaint in March 2013 from a conference attendee at the Gaylord Opryland. The guest claimed at the time that Marriott employees were "jamming mobile hotspots so that you can't use them in the convention space."

Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of eTribeca, a New York-based solution provider specializing in wireless, said he's seen venues, such as hotels and conference centers, leverage Wi-Fi blocking or "de-authentication" technologies in order to protect the quality of their service, but not for financial gain, as the FCC alleges the Gaylord Opryland has done.

"This particular case is about specific intent," Berzack said. "In my mind, property owners should not instruct people to turn off wireless for economic gain. They could [to preserve] airtime fairness, but not for economic gain."

In addition to the $600,000 fine, the Marriott is required to submit compliance and Wi-Fi usage reports to the Enforcement Bureau every three months for three years, the FCC said Friday.

PUBLISHED OCT. 3, 2014

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