Marriott International Inc. must pay a $600,000 fine for using technology to block visitors at a Nashville hotel from using their personal hotspot devices, the Federal Communications Commission announced Friday.
"The growing use of technologies that unlawfully block consumers from creating their own Wi-Fi networks via their personal hotspot devices unjustifiably prevents consumers from enjoying services they have paid for and stymies the convenience and innovation associated with Wi-Fi Internet access," FCC enforcement bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement.
A visitor at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center complained to the FCC in March 2013 that the hotel was "jamming mobile hotspots so that you can't use them in the convention space."
The complaint went on: "It happened once at [another Gaylord property and we] complained, gave them the router name and they unblocked. Now working in the property in Nashville and you can get a few minutes in the am then they jam you. Won't work in the ballrooms."
Large businesses often monitor their own wi-fi networks for illegal activity and might try to stamp out potentially malicious ones ("Starbecks" vs. "Starbucks").
In a statement Friday, Marriott called its actions "lawful" and said that it had a "strong interest" in protecting guests "from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft."
Marriott is pushing the FCC to clear up confusion about what is legal and what's not when it comes to signal jamming, the company said.
The FCC said Marriott, which operates but does not own the Nashville hotel, had no business sending signals to deactivate personal cellspots. Wi-fi costs for conferences ranged from $250 to $1,000 per device, according to the FCC.
"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," LeBlanc said. "This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether."
In June, the FCC levied a record $34-million fine on a Chinese company that sold devices in the U.S. to block wi-fi, GPS and cellular service signals.