FCC warns businesses about WiFi blocking

LIHUE — A Federal Communications Commission advisory warned that current laws do not allow blocking WiFi signals.

According to the statement from the office of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau Chief, “no hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator” providing its own service may intentionally block or disrupt personal WiFi hot spots. A violation could result in monetary penalties.

The warning followed what the FCC saw as a disturbing trend of hotels and other commercial establishments blocking personal WiFi hot spots on their premises.

FCC spokesman Neil Grace said the enforcement advisory is routine and serves as a general reminder of current regulations. It was not in response to a petition to allow hotels the right to block WiFi signals other than their own approved networks on their properties filed earlier this year by American Hospitality & Lodging Association, Marriott International, Inc., and Ryman Hospitality Properties.

“While the enforcement bureau recognizes that the petition questions our position, the bureau will continue to enforce the law as it understands it unless and until the commission determines otherwise,” Grace said. “It is not responsive to the petition, which is still before the commission and has not been decided yet.”

Marriott International announced that it withdrew itself as a party to the petition on legal WiFi security measures later that same day. The FCC did not say state whether the request remained active with the other petitioners.

“Our intent was to protect personal data in WiFi hotspots for large conferences,” said Bruce Hoffmeister, Global Chief Information Officer for Marriott International. “We thought we were doing the right thing asking the FCC to provide guidance, but the FCC has indicated its opposition.”

Hoffmeister repeated Marriott’s previous statement that it would not block WiFi signals at any hotel they manage for any reason. The petition was for a commitment to protect the security of WiFi access meeting and conference areas and did not involve the blocking of WiFi devices.

“We’re doing everything we can to promote our customers’ connectivity using mobile and other devices, and we’re working with the industry to find security solutions that do not involve blocking our guests’ use of their WiFi devices,” Hoffmeister added.

Marriott provides free WiFi to all members of its Rewards program.

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