If your business makes money charging customers to use your WiFi connection, you may well be tempted to do whatever you can to make them do so. Employees at the Marriott Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, gave in to the temptation, and are now paying the price.
Marriott punishable by law
Marriott International Inc (NASDAQ:MAR) staff presumably were not familiar with Section 333 of the Communications Act of 1934, which makes it illegal to “willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference” with licensed radio communications.
“In some cases, employees sent de-authentication packets to the targeted access points, which would dissociate consumers’ devices from their own Wi-Fi hotspot access points and, thus, disrupt consumers’ current Wi-Fi transmissions and prevent future transmissions,” the FCC stated.
At the same time, visitors to the Gaylord conference facility found themselves being billed up to $1,000 per device for access to the hotel WiFi network. It is believed that Marriott had been blocking internet connections since it started running the facility back in 2012.
A victory for consumers
FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis Le Blanc stated that “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.”
“It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether,” he continued.
The FCC has decreed that Marriott International Inc (NASDAQ:MAR) must cease to use WiFi blocking technology, as well as filing quarterly compliance and usage reports for three years. The hotel will also pay a $600,000 civil penalty.
The world’s second-largest publicly traded hotel chain is based out of Bethesda, Maryland. Representatives have so far failed to comment on the case.