The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has sent a clear message to hotels to stop blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots for guests. Prior to the enforcement advisory being issued, Marriott International was fined $600,000 for what the FCC deemed “unlawful interference”.

Over the past several years, an alarming trend has been identified by the Enforcement Bureau in which hotels, as well as a variety of commercial establishments have blocked wireless device users from reaching personal Wi-Fi hot spots while on the premises.

As stated by a spokesperson for the Enforcement Bureau, whether the Wi-Fi hotspots were blocked maliciously or willfully the act is illegal. Blocking Wi-Fi access is in direct violation to Section 333 of the amended Communications Act. As such, consumers are getting some much-needed protection from the Enforcement Bureau thanks to aggressive investigations and strong actions against any establishment that unlawfully and intentionally interferes.

In response to Marriott International being fined, the mega hotel chain promised that guests will no longer be blocked from using personal Wi-Fi. However, the company, along with several other hotels, did file a petition asking the policy to be changed, claiming the reliability of their own networks needs protection as well.

In a statement, Marriott International stressed that the security of Wi-Fi access in areas used for meetings and conferences still need protection. For that reason, the company is turning to the FCC to get clarification as to what are appropriate security measures that network operators are legally allowed to take in order to keep customer data protected. The company also stated it will continue to work with other hotels in finding the right market solution that does not consist of Wi-Fi devices being blocked.

After the petition was received and carefully considered, the FCC rejected it. Instead, Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman issued a strong warning that “consumers must get what they pay for”.

Wheeler added that under the Communications Act, maliciously or willfully interfering with any type of authorized radio communications, which includes Wi-Fi, is strictly prohibited. With Marriott International asking the FCC to approve blocking of guests using personal networks is a complete disregard to this basic principal.

One of the areas considered priority for the Enforcement Bureau is the protection of consumers. Therefore, Wheeler warned that any infractions in the future will be handled harshly.