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Microsoft and Google Join Fight to Stop Hotels From Blocking Wi-Fi

by Todd Haselton | December 26, 2014December 26, 2014 8:00 am PDT

Guests ride an escalator in the background of a Marriott log

You may remember a complaint levied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against Marriott earlier this year, in which the FCC said Marriott was illegally blocking Wi-Fi signals using cell jammers. The hotel chain, and others, have argued that they have a right to do so, and that blocking other signals will help prevent nefarious hotspots that may be dangerous for customers.

Of course, the other side of that argument is that Marriott and other hotels may just be blocking Wi-Fi hotspots in an effort to get customers to use their networks, which are sometimes slower or actually cost money to use. Now, Microsoft and Google are joining the fight against those hotels.

“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,” Marriott and the American Hospitality & Lodging Association have argued, according to Re/Code. Microsoft understands that viewpoint, but thinks the actions break the FCC’s rules.

“Microsoft agrees that Wi-Fi network operators should be permitted to use FCC-authorized equipment to monitor their own networks,” Microsoft argued in its own petition to the FCC. “However, a WiFi hotspot generated by a consumer’s mobile phone is not part of the hotel’s network, and is also authorized to operate in the unlicensed spectrum. Willfully excluding these other authorized devices from using that unlicensed spectrum, under the guise of mitigating so-called threats to the reliability (performance) of an operator’s own network, violates Section 333 [of the FCC’s rules].”

Google’s argument is similar to Microsoft’s, though also calls out the fees hotels charge for network access. “There is no need for a new proceeding to confirm this,” Google said. “Indeed, while Google recognizes the importance of leaving operators flexibility to manage their own networks, this does not include intentionally blocking access to other Commission-authorized networks, particularly where the purpose or effect of that interference is to drive traffic to the interfering operator’s own network (often for a fee).”

There has to be a middle ground here. It certainly should be illegal for a hotel chain to block a customer from using his or her own 4G LTE hotspot, which meets FCC standards, instead of a hotel Wi-Fi hotspot. The FCC is still considering the petition from the hotel industry, but with major tech firms on the other side of the fence now, it’s going to be a tough argument to win.

Microsoft Google Re/Code

Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...

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