Marriott, Hotel Industry Exit Wi-Fi Blocking Debate

Wi-Fi Symbol

In response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which last week issued a formal Enforcement Advisory warning that hotels are prohibited from blocking or interfering with personal Wi-Fi hotspots, Marriott International and the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) have officially withdrawn their petition seeking official FCC rulemaking on the use of Wi-Fi blocking technology, each announced Friday.

Marriott and AH&LA jointly filed the petition last summer in response to an FCC investigation of Marriott, which was accused of unlawfully using a Wi-Fi monitoring system to disable the personal networks of meeting attendees at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville. When the FCC later ruled against Marriott, the meetings and hospitality industries erupted in debate, the former arguing that Wi-Fi blocking infringes on attendees' right to access the Internet and the latter that it's necessary to protect attendees' privacy and security.

Although neither Marriott nor AH&LA have conceded their position -- that Wi-Fi monitoring technology is critical to hotel guests' security -- their exit from the FCC debate is an admission that achieving their end requires other means.

"As an industry we strongly support -- and partner with -- technology companies to ensure that our guests' have access to the latest innovations, including broad access to Wi-Fi. However, with all new technologies come significant challenges," AH&LA President and CEO Katherine Lugar said in a statement. "With some 5 million people checking into hotels every day, protecting their sensitive data is our top priority as is providing a safe and secure Wi-Fi connection. Our industry identified a critical issue and requested clarity from a governing body -- the Federal Communications Commission -- to clear up the significant confusion that exists around what tools businesses can use to legally protect guests' vital personal data. We did not seek to block personal Wi-Fi. However, it is clear that the petition is not achieving this goal, and that we must work in other ways to resolve this issue of consumer safety and cybersecurity."

In lieu of federal rulemaking, AH&LA has convened a "Cybersecurity Task Force" to develop market-based solutions in partnership with technology companies and government.

"This is particularly important for those hundreds of thousands of groups conducting meetings, conferences, and trade shows in hotels annually -- events that require a thorough approach to security," Lugar continued. "With some 42 million cybersecurity incidents reported last year that target all types of organizations -- a 50 percent increase over the year before -- our industry will work swiftly to determine solutions that protect our customers and give them peace of mind when they access the Internet."

In a separate statement, Marriott Global Chief Information Officer Bruce Hoffmeister likewise expressed a dual commitment to unrestricted Internet access and cybersecurity.

"Our intent was to protect personal data in Wi-Fi hotspots for large conferences. We thought we were doing the right thing asking the FCC to provide guidance, but the FCC has indicated its opposition," Hoffmeister said. "As we have said, we will not block Wi-Fi signals at any hotel we manage for any reason … We're doing everything we can to promote our customers' connectivity using mobile and other devices, and we're working with the industry to find security solutions that do not involve blocking our guests' use of their Wi-Fi devices."

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