FCC: Marriott used Wi-Fi jammers to block customers’ personal hotspots

One of the easiest ways to avoid sometimes exorbitant hotel fees for Wi-Fi connections is to simply bring your own network, either through your smartphone’s hotspot capabilities or through a standalone device. But if you haven’t been able to get a good signal at a hotel ballroom, it might not be your device’s fault: According to the Federal Communications Commission, Marriott has used Wi-Fi jammers to block personal hotspots at a hotel in Tennessee.

The FCC announced the results of its yearlong investigation on Friday, concluding that Marriott “intentionally interfered with and disabled Wi-Fi” networks at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. As a result of the investigation, Marriott will pay a $600,000 penalty to settle the complaint.

The investigation was spurred by an official complaint filed in March 2013. The user noticed that his mobile hotspot wasn’t working in the ballroom convention space and had faced similar issues at another Gaylord-branded hotel, which is Marriott’s line of convention-oriented hotels. Marriott did confirm that it used a Wi-Fi monitoring service that has “containment features,” which had been used to “prevent consumers from connecting to the internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks.”

The investigation found that Marriott’s Wi-Fi monitoring system sent de-authentication packets to Wi-Fi hotspots. This use of radio frequencies to disrupt personal hotspots violated FCC spectrum use regulations.

Gaylord hotels apparently use Allot NetEnforcer products and services to provide and monitor Wi-Fi connectivity to its customers. One stated benefit of the hardware is that it “increase[s] revenue with tiered WiFi packages and upselling.” Allot brags that its products have helped Gaylord hotels create 40 different service plans for a single conference with broadband speeds as low as 256kbps. Allot does not appear to list Wi-Fi jamming as a feature on its website, but does offer some features that can target “rogue” access points.

Besides cost, there are several reasons why someone staying at a hotel or working at a convention center would want a personal Wi-Fi network. Often, hotels block certain sites you may need for your work or pleasure. Streaming and peer-to-peer media is usually throttled. And if you wanted to use a Chromecast or Apple TV to, say, show a presentation, it usually works better on a personal Wi-Fi network.

According to Yelp reviews, Wi-Fi is included at the Gaylord Opryland as part of a $18-per-night resort fee, although users can upgrade to “enhanced high speed” internet for $6.99 per day. Marriott also offers services like custom private networks for its business customers, which can cost anywhere from $250 to $1000 per wireless access point.

Using the internet at the Gaylord Opyrland
Using the internet at the Gaylord Opyrland. Photo courtesy Jeremy Keith/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Cliff/Flickr Creative Commons