Hilton, Marriott and co want permission to JAM guests' personal Wi-Fi

Let's get ready to grumble

Top hotel chains want permission in the US to disrupt guests' personal Wi-Fi hotspots – a move that would force people to use expensive hotel wireless instead.

The hoteliers, including Hilton and Marriott, have urged US watchdog the FCC to allow them to cripple mobile hotspots because, they claim, such devices interfere with wireless networks provided on-site, and mention they could also be a security risk.

"As Wi-Fi becomes increasingly popular for connecting to the Internet, it is imperative that the Commission clarify the rules of the road for Wi-Fi network operators," the hotels' petition to the FCC reads. "Wi-Fi network operators should be able to manage their networks in order to provide a secure and reliable Wi-Fi service to guests on their premises."

Hilton Hotels explicitly denies that the petition is more about selling expensive Wi-Fi packages rather than good network practice. Its submission says that if people want to use personal hotspots from their smartphones, that's fine, but in crowded convention halls such devices can cause problems, it's alleged.

The chains are also not calling for permission to use banned jamming equipment that floods a radio channel with "harmful interference". Instead, they want the FCC to clarify that they are allowed to use "network management equipment," which can boot everyone off a wireless network, such as a hotspot, by spamming the aether with de-authentication packets.

So far the FCC hasn't agreed with the hotels. In October the regulator fined the Marriott Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, $600,000 for cutting off conventioneers from using their own Wi-Fi, rather than buying the service from the hotel for between $250 and $1,000 per stand.

Not surprisingly, technology giants aren't too pleased about the petition. Google and Microsoft have filed objections in fairly strong terms.

"Allowing property owners to block guests’ access to unaffiliated networks would be inconsistent with the goals of promoting competition and development of technologies in the market for Internet access," thundered Google.

"There is no need for further clarification: The Commission should dismiss Petitioners’ request for a rulemaking as inconsistent with settled, and sound, law."

The FCC is considering the petition, and should announce the results of its findings in the New Year. ®

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