FCC Says Hotels Can't Block Personal Hotspots

Hotels were handed a bucket of disappointment this week when the Federal Communications Commission made it clear that blocking personal hotspots is against the law, and doing so could lead to hefty fines. The FCC also said its warning extends beyond hotels to other businesses, too, which should cut down on places intentionally interfering with hotspot signals.

FCC to hotels: Stop blocking hotspotsFCC to hotels: Stop blocking hotspots

Hotspots are devices like Verizon's MiFi that let users create their own personal network with a wireless broadband Internet connection. They're handy in areas where other Internet options are limited, and are popular with travelers who don't want to pay hotels high fees for poor Internet access.

The FCC's announcement follows complaints that Marriott hotels were intentionally interfering with the radio signals from personal hotspots so customers couldn't use them and instead would have to pay to use the in-house WiFi network. The hotel chain tried to spin the move as a safety stance to protect customers from rouge networks where hackers would steal their personal information.

The agency has been investigating complaints, and said in its public statement,

Wi-Fi blocking violates Section 333 of the Communications Act, as amended. The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment's premises.

To help drive home its point, the FCC said that it is taking action against what it sees as "unlawful intentional interference."

Marriott agreed to pay US$600,000 to settle with the FCC over its hotspot blocking activities, and agreed to drop the practice. The FCC said it is currently looking into complaints that other commercial WiFi network operators are blocking hotspots, and it plans to "take appropriate action against violators."

That's good news for travelers who often need reliable Internet connections—something they often can't find in hotels.

The FCC said it wants to hear from people when they suspect a company is intentionally interfering with personal hotspots. You can contact the agency through its complaints website, or by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC.