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Hotel Chains Ask FCC to Let Them Jam Personal Wi-Fi Hotspots

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on January 02, 2015 6:01 AM

The battle for your wireless dollars is heating up. In October, we reported that Marriott was caught red-handed using a device to prevent users' personal Wi-Fi hot spots from working, in a transparent attempt to force conference attendees into buying Marriott's sensationally overpriced wireless access ($250 to $1,000 per access point).

The FCC fined Marriott $600,000 for that stunt. Now Hilton, Marriott, and the hotel industry trade group are asking the FCC for an exception. Microsoft and Google are vehemently opposed.

Only One Hotel Chain Would Dare Use Raspberry

In a comment to the FCC, the hotels said that their practice of jamming users' hotspots is "reasonable network management" designed to prevent interference with its own wireless network. As a bonus, they add the techie version of "won't someone please think of the children": cybercrime! The hotels claim that "unauthorized" access points (which are "unauthorized" only by Hilton itself) could affect the security of its networks, hinting at theft of credit card information.

The hotels are looking for a new exception to Section 333 of the Communications Act of 1934, which prevents intentional interference with an authorized radio transmission. This would be an exception for "reasonable and laudable" intentional interference -- with no apparent guidance on what that means, other than "if we think it's a good reason, then it's a good reason."

Tech Companies: It Doesn't Matter What Your Reasons Are

Microsoft and Google wrote counter-comments to the FCC last week, claiming that even if the hotels do have a right to manage their networks, that management doesn't extend to preventing customers' Wi-Fi hotspots from functioning. There are plenty of other ways in which hotels could address the problems they claim to be solving that don't involve the "blunt instrument" of sending a deceptive signal to users' access points to prevent devices from associating with them.

While Hilton has its priorities, its customers have rights too. As Microsoft points out, "a Wi-Fi hotspot generated by a consumer's mobile phone is not part of the hotel's network, and is also authorized to operate in the unlicensed spectrum." What we have here is a battle between two authorized devices; Hilton says that its authorized devices should trump other wireless devices ... because its devices are more important?

Yeah, It's Not About Security

Lurking in the background of Microsoft's and Google's comments is the suggestion that the hotels aren't all that interested in security and reliability. (Microsoft said that their practices occur "under the guise of mitigating so-called threats" to its network.) Instead, the comments intimate that because customers have found a way around paying outrageous prices for wireless access, the hotels want to be able to use their jamming method to prevent customers from using their own access points, forcing them into hotels' overpriced wireless networks.

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