FCC to Fine Hilton Over Alleged Wi-Fi Blocking

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intends to fine Hilton Worldwide $25,000 for obstructing an investigation into the use of Wi-Fi blocking devices at its hotels, it announced this week.

According to the FCC, which ruled earlier this year that hotels cannot legally block or interfere with consumers' use of personal Wi-Fi hotspots, Hilton has been the subject of numerous complaints by consumers alleging the use of Wi-Fi blocking at hotels. One such complaint was received in August 2014, when a consumer alleged that the Hilton Anaheim in Anaheim, CA, blocked visitors' Wi-Fi hotspots and required a $500 fee in order to unblock them. The FCC subsequently launched an investigation, but says Hilton has been unwilling to provide requested information.

"Hotel guests deserve to have their Wi-Fi blocking complaints investigated by the Commission," said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau. "To permit any company to unilaterally redefine the scope of our investigation would undermine the independent search for the truth and the due administration of the law."

Hilton is only the latest company to be investigated by the FCC for Wi-Fi blocking. Last year, Marriott International was fined $600,000 for blocking Wi-Fi hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville. And in August, the FCC fined telecom provider Smart City Networks $750,000 for blocking Wi-Fi hotspots at convention centers in Ohio, Indiana, Florida, and Arizona.

"No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner's Wi-Fi network," the FCC Enforcement Bureau has stated. "Such action is illegal and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties."

In a statement, a Hilton spokesperson defended the company. "We strongly disagree with the decision by the FCC Enforcement Bureau," the spokesperson said. "Hilton supports open access to private Wi-Fi networks for our customers through their personal devices, while at the same time protecting their personal information. We have a policy in place that states our commitment to secure open access and prohibits hotels from blocking Wi-Fi, and it is repeatedly communicated to all properties. Throughout this inquiry, we have cooperated with the FCC, providing extensive background and details in a timely and efficient manner. We believe that the FCC has no basis for vastly expanding the initial inquiry based on a single complaint at a single Hilton hotel."

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