In comments posted to the FCC’s website last week, wireless, technology and public interest groups voiced opposition to a petition, filed by Marriott International, asking the FCC to declare that hotel operators have the right to manage hotel-owned Wi-Fi networks “to provide a secure and reliable Wi-Fi service to guests on their premises,” even if such management “may result in ‘interference with or cause interference’ to” personal Wi-Fi connections and equipment used by hotel guests.  

With the backing of the American Hospitality and Lodging Association and Ryman Hospitality Properties, Marriott filed the petition last summer in the midst of an ongoing FCC investigation into complaints that Marriott intentionally blocked the personal Wi-Fi connections of guests at the Marriott-owned Gaylord Opryland resort to force guests and conference exhibitors to use the hotel Wi-Fi network, which charges access fees as high as $1,000 per device.  After Marriott agreed in October to settle the FCC probe by paying a $600,000 fine and by promising not to block personal Wi-Fi connections at each of the 3,000 properties it owns or manages in the U.S., the FCC issued a public notice in November to solicit comments on the Marriott petition.   

Although Marriott argues that its technology practices comply with the law and are intended to protect guests from “rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber attacks and identity theft,” CTIA countered that “Wi-Fi operators may not ‘deputize’ themselves to police the Part 15 radiofrequency environment.”  As such, CTIA advised the FCC that, “to the extent Wi-Fi operators have a legitimate need to protect their networks, they have a variety of other tools available to them that do not involve unlawfully disabling third-party access points.”  Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation Open Technology Institute emphasized that “both the Communications Act and the Commission’s enforcement advisories are clear that it is unlawful to willfully impair or disable any authorized communications by radio, regardless of whether the device is operating in ‘licensed’ or ‘unlicensed’ spectrum.”  Along the same vein, NCTA observed that the Communications Act “means what it says:  unlicensed stations are authorized, and authorized stations are protected.”  

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi network equipment firms Aruba Networks and Ruckus Wireless noted that the petition offers the FCC an opportunity to clarify Section 333 of the Communications Act, which forbids willful or malicious interference “to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this chapter,” and Part 15 of the FCC’s rules which governs unlicensed Wi-Fi operations.  Because Section 333 protects stations and not wireless devices, Aruba and Ruckus pointed out that Wi-Fi devices “have no expectation of protections from interference in most cases.”