US watchdog the FCC has ruled that no one – not even hotels and other commercial outfits – can block or ban personal Wi-Fi hotspots.
"The [FCC's] Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment’s premises," the FCC stated today.
"As a result, the Bureau is protecting consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference."
This "enforcement advisory" follows the FCC fining Marriott fined $600,000 for blocking the use of personal Wi-Fi hotspots in the convention center of one of its hotels – forcing guests to use the expensive wireless network instead.
Marriott interfered with people's private Wi-Fi by spamming the airwaves with de-authentication packets: these are special packets of data that instruct devices and computers to leave a given network. The broadcaster of these frames doesn't have to be authenticated on the wireless network; it's an easy way to knacker an airport or cafe wireless network.
The hotel chain was under the impression it was in the clear to perform de-authentication attacks on its grounds, as opposed to using crude and already clearly outlawed radio-frequency jamming equipment. The FCC disagreed, fining the hotelier.
In response, Marriott, Hilton, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association petitioned the FCC to change the rules to allow it to stop paying customers from using their own Wi-Fi hotspots, typically from smartphones so they can hook their laptops up to mobile internet.
The hoteliers claimed the use of such hotspots could compromise the security of their networks, and insisted that the case wasn't about padding their bottom lines with inflated internet access fees.
In the face of a public backlash, Marriott backed down on its hotspot ban last month, but continued to petition for a change in the rules. The FCC has now made up its mind and the result is a win for common sense.
"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. Such action is illegal and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties," the regulator said. ®