The Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued proposed fines against two companies in its latest actions against Wi-Fi blocking at hotels and convention centers.
Each company has been accused of blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots that let consumers share mobile data access with other devices such as laptops and tablets. Hilton and M.C. Dean must pay the fines within 30 days or file written statements seeking reduction or cancellation of the penalties. We’ve contacted both Hilton and M.C. Dean this morning but have not heard back.
The FCC last year received a complaint against a Hilton hotel in Anaheim, California that the company “blocked Wi-Fi access for visitors at the venue unless they paid a $500 fee.” More complaints against other Hilton properties followed, and in November 2014, the FCC issued Hilton a letter of inquiry seeking information about its Wi-Fi management practices at various Hilton-owned hotel chains.
“After nearly one year, Hilton has failed to provide the requested information for the vast majority of its properties. Hilton operates several brands, including Hilton, Conrad, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, and Waldorf Astoria properties,” the FCC said. Hilton’s response “contained corporate policy documents pertaining only generally to wireless management practices (which did not discuss Wi-Fi blocking) and provided Wi-Fi management records pertaining only to the single Hilton-brand property named in the complaint,” the FCC said in a Notice of Apparent Liability.
Hilton did not provide information or documents regarding its other properties. The company “stated that providing the omitted material ‘would be oppressive and unduly burdensome,’ and questioned the Bureau’s authority to investigate potential Wi-Fi blocking at other Hilton-brand properties,” according to the FCC.
In addition to the fine, the FCC ordered Hilton to file full responses to all of its previous requests for information.
M.C. Dean is the exclusive Wi-Fi provider at the Baltimore Convention Center and “charges exhibitors and visitors as much as $1,095 per event for Wi-Fi access,” the FCC said.
The FCC last year received a complaint that M.C. Dean was blocking personal hotspots, and it sent Enforcement Bureau field agents to the venue “on multiple occasions and confirmed that Wi-Fi blocking activity was taking place,” the commission said.
“During the investigation, M.C. Dean revealed that it used the ‘Auto Block Mode’ on its Wi-Fi system to block consumer-created Wi-Fi hotspots at the venue. The Wi-Fi system’s manual describes this mode as ‘shoot first, and ask questions later.’ M.C. Dean’s Wi-Fi blocking activity also appears to have blocked Wi-Fi hotspots located outside of the venue, including passing vehicles,” the FCC said.
What charming corporate citizens.