NEW YORK — Marriott International will pay a $600,000 fine for jamming conference attendees' own Wi-Fi networks at its Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, forcing them to pay hefty prices to use the hotel's own connection.
Frequent travelers often carry personal Wi-Fi hotspots — tiny devices that can connect to the Internet via cellphone towers. For $50 a month, they can connect to the Internet on the move, often avoiding big fees charged by hotels, airports and conference facilities. Some people upgrade their wireless data plans to make their smartphones into hotspots.
In 2013, a conference attendee at the Opryland hotel in Nashville — managed by Marriott — found that the hotel was jamming devices in its ballrooms and complained to the Federal Communications Commission. In the complaint, the guest noted that the same thing happened previously at another Gaylord property. The block didn't affect Wi-Fi access in guest rooms.
While jamming personal Wi-Fi connections, Marriott was charging conference organizers and exhibitors between $250 and $1,000, per access point, to use the Gaylord's Wi-Fi connection.
Marriott agreed to the fine and has instructed its hotels not to use the jamming technology the way it was used at Opryland, according to the FCC. But the company on Friday defended the blocking of guests' own Wi-Fi networks in the interest of network security. The company said it is legal to use FCC-approved technology to protect its Wi-Fi service against "rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyberattacks and identity theft," adding that hospitals and universities employ similar jamming practices.