After Marriott Fine, Hotels Ask FCC to Allow Wi-Fi Jamming

By William Peacock, Esq. on December 30, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Back in October the villainous Marriott's Nashville Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center was slammed by the FCC for jamming convention-goers' Wi-Fi signals, ostensibly to push them into paying the hotel for Wi-Fi access at between $250 and $1,000 per head.

That led to a $600,000 fine and a three-year consent decree, but the hotel did not admit malice -- they maintained that their purpose was to protect the public from rogue hotspots that steal data and transmit malware to unsuspecting users.

They're so committed to that purpose, in fact, that they, along with a group of other hotels, have asked the FCC to allow them to jam users' Wi-Fi networks in the future.

Is This Actually Illegal?

According to Inside Counsel, the group (which includes the American Hospitality and Lodging Association, the Marriott, and others) asked the FCC back in August to clarify that current laws preventing interference with radio communications do not apply to Wi-Fi.

The statute at issue is Section 333 of the Communications Act, which states, "No person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government."

But as we noted back in October, the FCC's complaint asserted that it was well-established that the law does cover Wi-Fi networks.

Should It Be Illegal?

Read that statute closely: "any radio communication of any station licensed or authorized by ... the United States Government."

Wi-Fi runs on unlicensed airwaves, which is what the hoteliers' argument points to.

However, a group of tech giants opposed the hotel group's petition to the FCC. Microsoft stated the obvious in its comment to the FCC: "In the Section 333 of the Communications Act prohibits willful or malicious interference with a radio-transmitting device authorized under the Communications Act. Unlicensed operations are authorized under the Act, and as a result, are protected under Section 333. The Commission has repeatedly made clear that Wi-Fi is protected from jamming and interference under Section 333."

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