Mixed signals on blocking Wi-Fi

LIHUE — Marriott International says its request to control Wi-Fi on its property is aimed at protecting conferences and would not interfere with guests.

American Hospitality & Lodging Association, Marriott International, Inc., and Ryman Hospitality Properties currently have a petition before the Federal Communications Commission that is asking for the right to block Wi-Fi signals other than their own approved networks on their properties. In a press release, Marriott said their network operator needs to be allowed to detect and contain rogue or impostor Wi-Fi hotspots at hotel meeting and conference events that pose a security threat to attendees and guest wireless networks.

Marriott corporate offices did not return calls or emails. However, the Marriott International posted a response Wednesday saying the petition is purely to protect the security of meeting and conference areas and not to block guests from using personal Wi-Fi devices at managed hotels.

“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,” the statement read.

Care2, a social enterprise nonprofit, collected 13,000 signatures in a campaign to ask the FCC to not approve the petition to allow hotels to remotely disable the Wi-Fi devices. They noted that hotel conference rooms pose no more a unique threat than coffee shops and library networks, and that Microsoft, Google and many network organizations have publicly opposed the Wi-Fi-blocking petition.

“We applaud Marriott International for taking the right course of action by dropping its petition to the FCC and pledging to not block guests’ personal Wi-Fi devices at its hotels,” said Care2 CEO Randy Paynter. “Care2 members are calling on the American Hospitality and Lodging Association to do the same and curb this disturbing attempt to obstruct hotel guests’ access to the Internet.”

FCC spokesperson Neil Grace, said that the petition was not withdrawn and is still in front of the commission without a deadline to rule

“While public comment on the agency’s notice has closed, the commission has not yet responded,” Grace said.

There are currently 128 public responses on the FCC site in opposition to the petition. Most said the petition was in the guise of protecting their own networks, but appeared to be for commercial gain when an exclusive license allows for a network that is not superior to what they are blocking and would interfere with a growing number of devices in the free spectrum including Personal Area Networks and assistive devices that use close captioning and other applications.

Comments against the petition included small business owners who said they do not often have any say in the selection of hotels when they attend conventions or trade shows, or the expense accounts to pay for redundant services with exorbitant fees. At the same time, they rely on a multitude of platforms over the course of a single day.

“The ability to stay in touch with family and business colleagues during a normal day has been become part of the fabric of American society, no longer a luxury but a necessity,” said one letter of opposition from Bohdan Porytko of Morristown, New Jersey.

Others in opposition included amateur radio operators and users of other spectrums in the broadband who said the petition, if approved, would authorize interference with all kinds of signals and transmissions because it does not distinguish between them.

Visitors in the Nawiliwili area had different reactions to the petition.

“I would change hotels,” said Stuart McDonald, of Sydney, Australia, who was on his second trip to Kauai via the Spirit of America cruise.

John and Tracy, who declined to give their last name, of California, said they “were indifferent” because Wi-Fi is among the least of their priorities while on vacation. They were impressed on a recent trip to Costa Rica, however, when they saw that the government had set up free Wi-Fi in all of the parks and some public places.

“It was really neat seeing everyone on their tablets,” John said.

Requests for comment from the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, Verizon and AT&T were not returned. Hawaiian Telcom withheld comment.

In October, Marriott agreed on a $600,000 settlement to resolve an FCC investigation on a Tennessee hotel that improperly used a Wi-Fi monitoring system to intentionally interfere with and disable Wi-Fi networks established by consumers in the conference facilities of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville. At the same time, they charged consumers, small businesses, and exhibitors from $250 to $1,000 per device to access Marriott’s Wi-Fi network, according to an FCC press release. The agreement included a three-year compliance plan.

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