Marriott International, Inc. recently entered into a Consent Decree with the Federal Communications Commission to end an investigation into whether the company intentionally disabled consumers’ personal Wi-Fi hotspot connections at its Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. As part of the Consent Decree, Marriott will pay a $600,000 civil penalty and must file compliance reports with the FCC every three months for three years.
The FCC received a complaint in 2013, alleging that the Gaylord Opryland was interfering with and disabling mobile Wi-Fi hotspots so that such devices could not be used in its convention space, potentially in violation of a provision of the Communications Act that prohibits willful or malicious interference with authorized radio communications. After investigating, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau found that the facility was using a Wi-Fi monitoring system to limit and disable guest-created mobile Wi-Fi hotspot access points that connect to the Internet through commercial mobile data services purchased by consumers. This practice forced conference attendees to use the Opryland’s Wi-Fi network, which Marriott charged anywhere from $250 to $1,000 per wireless access point to connect, according to the FCC. Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc called the practice “unacceptable” and noted that Marriott placed “consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”
The consent decree noted that to ensure connectivity and avoid high charges by airports, hotels, and other facilities, consumers often purchase mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices and subscriptions for mobile Wi-Fi Internet access. Other consumers add mobile Wi-Fi hotspot access to existing wireless data plans, enabling smartphones to act as mobile hotspots.
In a statement defending its practices, Marriott said it believed that “the Opryland’s actions were lawful” and is encouraging “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.”