Marriott: It’s Okay, We Only Want To Jam Your Hotspot In The Rooms You Actually Need It In

Last fall, Marriott got in trouble for jamming the signals from users’ portable hotspots in one of their conference centers. That’s illegal, and the FCC fined them big bucks for it. Now the hotel chain is trying to make it legal, which has gone over very poorly in the public eye. But wait, Marriott says — we don’t want to stop you from using personal hotspots in your room! We only want to block you from using them in shared spaces where you could actually benefit from having them.

Marriott issued their statement a few days ago, when most people were away planning their New Year’s parties. “To be clear,” the chain says, “this matter does not involve in any way Wi-Fi access in hotel guestrooms or lobby spaces.”

Instead, Marriott writes, it’s all about meeting rooms and event spaces. The question at hand is whether hotels should be allowed “to detect and contain rogue and imposter Wi-Fi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat to meeting or conference attendees or cause interference to the conference guest wireless network.”

Marriott’s statement seems pointless in two directions at once. First: in-room internet connectivity isn’t the problem guests have at hotels. The problem is, instead, exactly those meeting rooms and event spaces.

As anyone who has attended, worked at, or tried to cover a large or tech-heavy conference can relate (E3, I’m looking at you), event rooms are exactly where you need your personal hotspot the most. Show floors, plenary sessions, or even breakout panels and seminars often have way more people in them trying to use the available wifi than the networks can generally support, and even getting out a tweet or an e-mail — let alone images or video — can be an exercise in futility unless you’ve got a personal hotspot to hand.

Second: there is not exactly an epidemic of mobile hotspots causing hotel networks to become insecure or fail — and multiple networks can peacefully coexist in the same area. Anyone who lives in a major city or even a crowded suburb can probably see half a dozen (if not many more) of their neighbors’ networks, but it’s very rare for them to interfere with one another.

Marriott is right to care about the security of any network they provide, but jamming every mobile hotspot in the ballrooms isn’t going to make a hotel’s wifi suddenly impenetrable. When the chain got in trouble with the FCC, they were charging conference attendees $250 – $1000 per device to access the Marriott network. Anyone who wants to go on a hacking or cyber-demolition spree can do so perfectly well from one of those purchased connections; they don’t need a personal hotspot.

It’s really all about those fees. If conference-goers have a workaround, Marriott loses a revenue stream. But for now, at least, the FCC is on consumers’ side (and so are big tech companies).

The FCC is likely to come to a decision on Marriott’s petition to change the rule during the first half of 2015.

[via Re/Code]

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