FCC fines Marriott $600,000 for blocking customers' Wi-Fi

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined hotel chain Marriott $600,000 for blocking guests' Wi-Fi networks and instead imposing on them its own slow but costly Wi-Fi.

The FCC found the company blocked consumer Wi-Fi networks last year during an event at a hotel and conference centre in Nashville.

Marriott instead allowed exhibitors and others to access the hotel's own Wi-Fi for as much as $1,000 per device, FCC said on Friday.

Marriott has admitted to using a jamming system in at least one of its hotels, in order to prevent visitors from connecting to the internet via mobile broadband and agreed to pay over $600,000 in penalties.

FCC noted that at one of Marriott's hotel in Tennessee, the Gaylord Opryland, an employee deliberately sought out visitors who were using WiFi hotspots and sent "de-authentication packets" to those devices, disconnecting them from laptops, tablets and phones.

The hotel's action ran counter to section 333 of the Communications Act, and FCC has, in addition to the fine, asked Marriott to file reports every three months showing it's on good behaviour.

"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," FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement.

"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," said Travis LeBlanc, the FCC's top enforcement official.

Marriott usually sells its own Wi-Fi network for $14.95 a day, and in some cases, depending on the situation, it charges as much as $1,000 per device, according to the FCC.

When the customer is charged separately for each device, the fees can add up to a huge sum, the regulator pointed out.

Marriott, however, insisted that its actions were legal and were designed to thwart "rogue wireless hotspots."

"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-authorised equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers," Marriott said.

"We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a ruleimaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today's action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy."