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Once in a while, you have to applaud the villain's genius. This alleged scheme by Marriott's Nashville Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center? Kind of genius.
According to the FCC, Marriott jammed convention-goers' personal Wi-Fi hotspot signals, while charging exorbitant fees for access to Marriott's own network. Marriott, which reportedly agreed to a $600,000 fine and a three-year consent decree, assured the public that they were merely protecting them.
According to the FCC's complaint and consent decree, filed Friday, the Commission received a complaint in March 2013 that the Marriott was jamming convention-goers' personal Wi-Fi hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland. Meantime, the hotel was charging users for access to its network at a rate of between $250 and $1,000 per head.
That's a problem, not only because it's kind of a jerk move, but also because Section 333 of the Communications Act provides that "No person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government," and it's already been established that Wi-Fi networks are covered by that statute.
Marriott issued the following statement to Re/Code regarding its innocent motive for jamming hotspots:
"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. Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers."
See? Totally innocent, totally not about collecting the $250- to $1,000-per-head Wi-Fi charge.
News outlets are focusing on the $600,000 fine, but considering how much Marriott apparently charged for Wi-Fi in this case, that's probably covered by a single busy afternoon. The real cost is the compliance regimen set up in the consent decree.
Within 30 days, Marriott has to stop jamming users' Wi-Fi. It has to send reports every three months listing all of its domestic locations, any blocked "rogue" access points, any usage of jamming devices, the identities of individuals whose devices were jammed, etc. And any employee slip-ups have to be reported immediately to the FCC. The compliance headache alone is probably more punishment than the fine.
If it isn't obvious yet, the lesson here is to not be a complete and utter jerk -- we need our Internet access folks. Jamming users' hotspots in favor of your company's overpriced offering not only makes us want to avoid your business in the future, but it also may end up with an FCC fine and consent decree.
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