Marriott, which last year paid a $600,000 fine for blocking customers’ WiFi devices in its hotels, has said that it no longer will prevent guests from using personal hotspots or similar devices.

The situation resulted from a complaint by a guest who stayed at Marriott’s Gaylord Opryland hotel in 2013 and found that he couldn’t use a personal mobile hotspot device in the hotel’s conference and meeting area. The customer complained to the Federal Communications Commission, which conducted an investigation and discovered that the hotel was using a WiFi monitoring system to segment its network and de-authenticate hotspots and networks created by guests.

“In some cases, 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. At the same time that these employees engaged in these practices, Marriott charged conference exhibitors and other attendees anywhere from $250 to $1,000 per device to use the Gaylord Wi-Fi service in the conference facilities,” the FCC said in a statement at the time Marriott agreed to the fine in October 2014.

Hotels often charge organizations that hold meetings and events in their properties a fee for WiFi or hardwired Internet drops in their convention areas and meeting rooms. But preventing attendees or guests from using their own personal hotspots or other devices is a different story.

“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,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “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.”

At the time, Marriott officials said they believed the company had the right to block guests’ WiFi devices in the meeting space. But now, the company said it will no longer do that.

“Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of our managed hotels.  Marriott remains committed to protecting the security of Wi-Fi access in meeting and conference areas at our hotels,” the company said in a statement.

“We will continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of Wi-Fi devices.”

Categories: Government, Mobile Security, Privacy, Web Security