Marriott has agreed to fork over $600,000 after regulators said the hotel chain forced people to buy their pricey, slow WiFi instead of letting customers use their own personal hotspots.
The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that Marriott admitted to using a jamming system in at least one of its hotels in a move that prevented visitors from connecting to the Internet via mobile broadband. The agency said employees at one Tennessee hotel, the Gaylord Opryland, deliberately sought out visitors who were using WiFi hotspots and sent "de-authentication packets" to those devices, disconnecting them from laptops, tablets and phones.
It so happens that this policy runs directly counter to Section 333 of the Communications Act, the FCC's congressional charter. So now, in addition to the fine, Marriott will have to file reports every three months to the FCC showing it's on good behavior.
"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 sells its own WiFi access for $14.95 a day. Those fees can quickly add up, particularly when a customer is being charged separately for each new device, as some have complained. Marriott charges as much as $1,000 per device in some cases, according to the FCC.
Marriott, in a statement, insisted that its actions were legal and 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-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers," Marriott said. "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."
@b_fung So at $14.95, Marriott can make up the fine in 40,000 room nights. Shouldn't take too long for the US' largest hotel chain ...
— Mike Feibus (@MikeFeibus) October 3, 2014
Of course, it won't take long for Marriott to recoup the financial cost of its alleged misbehavior.