FCC Fines Marriott $600,000 for Wi-Fi Blocking at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville

October 6, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission has fined Marriott International and Marriott Hotel Services $600,000 for blocking Wi-Fi at events in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville.

The FCC Enforcement Bureau’s investigation revealed that Marriott employees had used containment features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system at the Gaylord Opryland to prevent individuals from connecting to the Internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks, while at the same time charging consumers, small businesses and exhibitors as much as $1,000 per device to access Marriott’s Wi-Fi network.

The practice was in violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act.

“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc.

He added, “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.  This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

In March last year, someone attending an event at Gaylord alleged that the Gaylord Opryland was “jamming mobile hotspots so that you can’t use them in the convention space.” 

The FCC investigation found that employees of Marriott, which has managed the day-to-day operations of the Gaylord Opryland since 2012, had used features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system at the facility to contain and/or de-authenticate guest-created Wi-Fi hotspot access points in the conference facilities.

In some cases, employees sent de-authentication packets to the targeted access points, which would dissociate consumers’ devices from their own Wi-Fi hotspot access points that would in turn disrupt consumers’ current Wi-Fi transmissions and prevent future transmissions. 

Even with the blocked access, Marriott charged conference exhibitors and other attendees anywhere from $250 to $1,000 per device to use the Gaylord Wi-Fi service in the conference facilities.   

As a result of the investigation, the Marriott must cease the unlawful use of Wi-Fi blocking technology and take significant steps to improve how it monitors and uses its Wi-Fi technology at the Gaylord Opryland and pay a $600,000 fine.

Marriott must institute a compliance plan and file compliance and usage reports with the bureau every three months for three years, including information documenting any use of access point containment features at any U.S. property that Marriott manages or owns.

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