FCC says hotels may not jam your personal Wi-Fi hotspot

YOUR RIGHT OF THE DAY: Companies or individuals may not block or interfere with your personal Wi-Fi hotspot.*

What’s the news on this right?

Hotel chain Marriott International has agreed to pay the government a penalty of $600,000 for “jamming” guests’ personal Wi-Fi hotspots.

What law did Marriott violate and how?

The Communications Act contains a very broad prohibition on anyone blocking any “radio communications” licensed by the government, which includes services from wireless carriers such as Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile.* Many people purchase personal Wi-Fi hotspots from these wireless carriers, which, like cell phones, use radio communications.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government agency which enforces the Communications Act, said that one of Marriott’s hotel’s, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN, had been violating this law by using jamming technology to block guests’ access to their personal Wi-Fi hotspots. When guests found they couldn’t access their own hotspot, many decided to purchase the hotel’s Wi-Fi, starting at $14.95 per day, and for conference exhibitors, up to $1000 per device.

Even though Marriott agreed to pay up, it disputes that it violated the law, arguing that it took these actions to “protect” its Wi-Fi network from “rogue wireless hotspots.” The hotel chain says the FCC’s actions create “ongoing confusion” and that the agency should reassess its policy.

What does this mean for me?

If any other hotels or really any type of establishments have been jamming Wi-Fi networks, they will likely stop doing so as a result of the FCC’s actions here. But it remains to be seen how far the FCC is willing to go to enforce the rule against jamming radio communications.

*Source: Communications Act, Section 333; as interpreted by Federal Communications Commission

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