FCC issues warning on Wi-Fi blocking, cites “disturbing” trend

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday sent out a public notice warning hotels, convention centers and other businesses not to tamper with consumers’ personal Wi-Fi hot spots, or else face penalties.

From the FCC’s statement:

In the 21st Century, Wi-Fi represents an essential on-ramp to the Internet. Personal Wi-Fi networks, or “hot spots,” are an important way that consumers connect to the Internet.  Willful or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hot spots is illegal…The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment’s premise.

The announcement comes months after the agency reached a $600,000 settlement with the Marriott International Hotel over that chain’s use of so called “de-authentication packets” to deactivate customers’ personal signals. Since that episode, the FCC claims, commercial internet providers have complained about numerous other incidents of businesses interfering with Wi-Fi. The agency also said it is conducting investigations — suggesting other fines may be forthcoming.

Hotels like Marriott have sought to frame the issue as one of safety, arguing that they want to limit “rogue” access points. But skeptics claim the hotel and others implement the blocking tactics for no other reason than to protect the lucrative fees they can charge consumers for access to in-house Wi-Fi.

Earlier this month, Marriott and other hotels backed a petition urging the FCC to change its Wi-Fi policies. Today’s notice suggests the agency’s answer is “no dice.”