FCC warns against Wi-Fi hotspot blocking and hints at further crackdowns

After shutting down Marriott’s attempt to block personal Wi-Fi hotspot use, the Federal Communications Commission says it’s looking into more violations elsewhere.

In a public notice on its website, the FCC makes clear that businesses are not allowed to willfully or maliciously block Wi-Fi hotspots. The notice also suggests that more fines could be on the way, as Marriott’s original violations have prompted fresh complaints.

“Following the settlement, the Enforcement Bureau has received several complaints that other commercial Wi-Fi network operators may be disrupting the legitimate operation of personal Wi-Fi hot spots,” the notice says. “The Bureau is investigating such complaints and will take appropriate action against violators.”

In October, the FCC slapped Marriott with a $600,000 fine for blocking Wi-Fi hotspot use at one of its convention centers in Nashville, Tenn. Marriott claimed that it was only looking out for guests’ safety from “rogue” hotspots, but that argument rung hollow as the hotel charged upwards of $250 for access to its own Wi-Fi network.

Still, Marriott clung to the safety argument as it petitioned the FCC to reconsider—a move that drew opposition from Google, Microsoft, and the wireless industry. Although Marriott recently promised guests that it would not block their hotspot use anymore, it refused to drop its petition, leaving open the possibility of blocking with a favorable FCC ruling.

Why this matters: The FCC still has to come up with a ruling on Marriott’s petition, but there’s no word on when that might happen. The notice makes clear that nothing has changed in the meantime, effectively firing a warning shot at businesses that were hoping to skate by on uncertainty.

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