Marriott to Pay FCC Fine of $600K over Opryland Wi-Fi Dispute

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email

Washington, DC – Marriott has agreed to pay a $600,000 fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over its blockage of personal Wi-Fi networks at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville but called its practice lawful.

The hotel chain said in a written statement that its blockage of wireless networks set up by guests at its conference center was made to protect the security of those same guests from identity thieves and other interlopers. “Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks, and identity theft,” the statement said.

“We believe that the Gaylord Opryland’s actions were lawful,” Marriott said. “We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from this action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy.”

Marriott said it disagreed with the FCC’s conclusion that the company had actually blocked the personal Wi-Fi services, also known as Mi-Fi, in order to force them to pay a stiff fee to use the Opryland service. The agency said in its announcement that the access costs ran as high as $1,000 per device.

Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau, said, “This practice puts consumers in the untenable situation of either paying twice for the same service or foregoing Internet service altogether.”

The FCC said Marriott used a monitoring system that allowed employees to “contain and/or de-authenticate guest-created Wi-Fi hotspot access points in the conference facilities.”

“At the same time that these employees engaged in these practices, Marriott charged conference exhibitors and other attendees anywhere from $250 to $1,000 per device to use the Gaylord Wi-Fi service,” said the statement. The FCC said it conducted its investigation after receiving a complaint from an unnamed conference attendee, but did not state which conference it was or when it took place.

Marriott normally charges customers $14.95 per day for its Wi-Fi service.

Marriott, which has managed operations at Gaylord properties since 2012, countered that the practice was aimed at protecting its own Wi-Fi network from intruders and was fairly standard among institutions, such as universities and hospitals. It also noted that Gaylord used “FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers.”

Is Marriott’s Contention Believable?
“Balderdash,” said an article in the Gulliver Business Travel section of the Economist.com. “Marriott shouldn’t need an FCC rule to know what it was doing was wrong. Business travellers are grownups, and are always in places — airports, coffee shops, hotels — full of random unidentified wireless networks.”  The article noted that most travelers are savvy enough to avoid connecting to anything suspicious. “They don’t need hotels to ‘protect’ them by disabling hotspots and forcing them to use expensive in-house Wi-Fi.”

In addition to paying the fine, Marriott will have to develop a plan to improve how it monitors and uses its Wi-Fi network at the Gaylord Opryland, the FCC said. Marriott will also have to file progress reports to the FCC every three months for three years.

Reach Randy Miller, director of sales and marketing for Gaylord Opryland, at (615) 889-1000 or rmiller@gaylordhotels.com