Marriott backs off from blocking Wi-Fi hotspots but leaves its FCC petition open

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Facing a backlash from customers and a $600,000 government fine, Marriott says it will no longer block Wi-Fi hotspots at the hotel chain's convention centers.

“Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of our managed hotels,” the company said in a statement to Re/code. “Marriott remains committed to protecting the security of Wi-Fi access in meeting and conference areas at our hotels.”

Marriott came under fire for its hotspot blocking policies last year, when the Federal Communications Commission slapped the hotel chain with a $600,000 fine. Hotel management had been preventing hotspot use at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., while charging guests and exhibitors between $250 and $1,000 to use the hotel's own Wi-Fi network. Nonetheless, Marriott claimed that the blocking was foremost a security measure against cyber-attacks through rogue hotspots.

In December, Marriott and the American Hotel and Lodging Association petitioned the FCC to reconsider its rules. That move only drew more scorn from customers and from tech firms such as Google and Microsoft, which filed comments to the FCC opposing the petition.

Although Marriott says it won't try to block hotspot use anymore, it hasn't completely given up on the idea, nor has it withdrawn its petition to the FCC, Re/code notes.

Why this matters: Saying that it won't block hotspots anymore could merely be a PR move aimed at allaying some of the backlash. Or, it could mean that the continued appeal to the FCC will truly focus on security, and ways that Marriott could block supposedly rogue hotspots without impeding normal usage. The hotel chain has left itself enough ambiguity to have it both ways, but at least Marriott is acknowledging its customers are right.

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