Two more WiFi bullies slapped down by FCC

7 November 2015 by Steve Blum
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Hefty fines have again been assessed against hospitality companies that interfere with guests’ personal WiFi hotspots, or seem to. The Federal Communications Commission nailed a concessionaire at the Baltimore convention center for $718,000

The Enforcement Bureau’s investigation found that M.C. Dean engaged in Wi-Fi blocking at the Baltimore Convention Center on dozens of occasions in the last year. During the investigation, M.C. Dean revealed that it used the “Auto Block Mode” on its Wi-Fi system to block consumer-created Wi-Fi hotspots at the venue. The Wi-Fi system’s manual describes this mode as “shoot first, and ask questions later.” M.C. Dean’s Wi-Fi blocking activity also appears to have blocked Wi-Fi hotspots located outside of the venue, including passing vehicles. The Commission today charges M.C. Dean with violating Section 333 of the Communications Act by maliciously interfering with or causing interference to lawful Wi-Fi hotspots.

Hilton Hotels is also accused of WiFi blocking and, according to the FCC, is stonewalling the investigation. That netted the company a $25,000 fine, with more on the horizon…

In August 2014, the Commission received an initial consumer complaint alleging that the Hilton in Anaheim, California blocked visitors’ Wi-Fi hot spots unless those consumers paid a $500 fee to access Hilton’s Wi-Fi. The Commission has also received Wi-Fi blocking complaints involving other Hilton properties. In November 2014, the Bureau issued Hilton a letter of inquiry seeking information concerning basic company information, relevant corporate policies, and specifics regarding Wi-Fi management practices at Hilton-brand properties in the United States. After nearly one year, Hilton has failed to provide the requested information for the vast majority of its properties. Hilton operates several brands, including Hilton, Conrad, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, and Waldorf Astoria properties.

Hilton and M.C. Dean joint Marriott and Smart Cities, another convention center WiFi operator, which have been fined in the past. Anyone who travels a lot knows the frustration of hotel and convention center shakedowns: everything from so-called amenity fees that magically appear on your bill to overpriced food to extortionate Internet service. Mostly, it’s perfectly legal. But not where someone else’s wireless service is concerned. Control of real estate does not confer control of the airwaves.