The FCC has fined hotel giant, Hilton, and Baltimore Convention Center’s WiFi Provider, MC Dean for being in violation of the law for blocking personal hotspot signals while inside their facilities. These two companies now join Marriott, who in January of this year was fined $600,000 for the same. Hilton faced a small penalty of $25,000 for violations that occurred at their Anaheim, CA hotel, whereas wireless provider, MC Dean is facing a proposed fine upwards of $700,000 for admitting to using powerful technology that blocked connections both inside and outside of the Baltimore Convention Center. MC Dean then charged as much as $1,095 to use their wireless services for events.
The FCC has been both a big advocate of protecting unlicensed spectrum and the rights of the public to have access to WiFi, however they were not all in agreement on this one, the FCC action was approved with a 3-2 vote. Part of a dissenting opinion from FCC Commissioner Agit Pai:
“In the end, this decision is the latest evidence that the FCC’s enforcement process has gone off the rails.”
One WLAN manager recently put the necessity for FCC enforcement into perspective: “The only thing I can think of is that the people who are ‘confused’ don’t understand that if THEY have the right to jam my Wi-Fi devices, then conversely, I have the right to jam THEIR Wi-Fi devices. Does anyone really believe that open warfare is the way to proceed?”
The law seems pretty black and white, right?
FCC Section 333: it is “patently unlawful for any company to maliciously block FCC-approved WiFi connections”.
So why, other than the obvious added revenue stream, would a hotel or convention center want to block their guests’ personal hot spots? Part of the answer is so that the hotel or convention center can preserve the quality of its wireless network. To put it simply: too many access points trying to operate on the same channels can cause a dramatic decrease in the quality of the service. This is exactly why a property-wide WiFi network is necessary in a multifamily space: too many personal routers = interference and poor quality for residents. It is also why intelligent WiFi network architecture is of such importance in a multifamily/ multitenant space. A WiFi network designed right will have the ability to monitor, adjust and mitigate channel interference remotely and the network would be architected to minimize interference caused by too many access points (Spot On’s patent-pending network architecture does this).
The second “argument” being made by hotel owners is that customers are vulnerable to hacking and identity theft when they don’t control all network usage. That one is a little odd. If the hotel is using a truly secure network backed by client isolation technology, like Spot On’s UserSafe™ technology, users on the network are invisible to hackers. As for those using personal hotspots in the hotel – they should be able to have the right to determine whether or not they feel safe using their connection – it should not be the hotel’s decision.
As for public opinion in the comments and blogs today, there are a few takeaways:
- The public views WiFi as a free utility – one that is outside of “big-corporate” control
- Many seem disgruntled by the tendency for higher end hotels to charge for WiFi and are gravitating to mid-tier chains to get their free WiFi and free breakfast
- This is one area where public majority seems to really view a government entity as “For The People:
- Not everyone thinks the same. While the majority of the public is cheering for the FCC ruling, a few have the opinion: “If you don’t like it as a consumer, go somewhere else”. One commenter on Engadget: “It is their property that you are on – if they block your hotspot then don’t go there again and go to a chain that does.”
To read the FCC commission document, click here.