A week after the FCC issued an enforcement advisory warning of potential fines against businesses that block consumer access to personal Wi-Fi connections, Marriott International withdrew its pending petition, which asked the FCC to declare that operators of hotel-based and other commercial Wi-Fi networks do not violate Section 333 of the 1934 Communications Act when blocking usage of personal Wi-Fi devices that could pose security and other risks to on- premise Wi-Fi networks.
Joined by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and Ryman Hospitality Properties, Marriott filed the petition for rulemaking or declaratory ruling last August in the midst of an FCC investigation into allegations that employees of the Marriott Gaylord Opryland Resort blocked the personal Wi-Fi connections of guests to force guests to pay for access to the hotel’s Wi-Fi network. Two months later, Marriott and the FCC settled the probe with a consent decree under which Marriott agreed to pay a $600,000 fine and refrain from blocking guest Wi-Fi connections at Marriott-owned or managed properties throughout the U.S. Notwithstanding the continued pendency of the Marriott petition, the FCC signaled last week that “no hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing such services may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises,” cautioning that “violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties.”
Citing FCC and public interest group opposition, a spokeswoman for AHLA acknowledged “we are formally withdrawing our petition” as “it is clear that the petition is not achieving [its] goal.” As the spokeswoman noted that AHLA had convened a task force “to develop practical, market-based solutions and collaborate with our partners in the technology, telecommunications and other sectors as well as with the FCC,” a Marriott official maintained, “we’re doing everything we can to promote our customers’ connectivity . . . and we’re working with the industry to find security solutions.”