Marriott's Wrong: You Have a Right to Wi-Fi. Period.

Alex GizisBlog, Hotel Internet

A Game of Cat-and-Mouse

I think by now, many people have read about how Marriott had been caught jamming their own hotel guests’ personal WiFi hotspots. They were purposely sending “management” packets to force computers into quitting the network. People would find that, though they could start a Connectify Hotspot or connect to their LTE device, their computers couldn’t stay on the network for more than a few seconds. It didn’t take too long for a savvy hotel guest to notice, and after being reported to the FCC, Marriott was ordered to pay $600,000.

While they’re happy to pay the fine (a drop in the bucket for an international hotelier), Marriott has refused to admit any wrongdoing. On top of that, their response totally ignores our right to WiFi (as outlined by the FCC), and that really upsets me.

“Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyberattacks and identity theft. Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries… [Marriott] protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers.”

Here’s the TL;DR: Marriott is defending themselves by saying that they jam WiFi to protect their service and their customers. They also claim that the jammers they’re using are FCC-authorized.

Marriott is Being Misleading

It turns out they’re wrong on every single point. To me, it seems like they’re being misleading knowing full well that the average person might not be aware of some facts that are really, really important to this story:

In the US, you have an absolute right to use 2.4 GHz, like Wi-Fi, in any place that you rent, and hotels and landlords cannot do a thing about it (as long as your antenna is smaller than a meter). Your Wi-Fi use is a right given to you by the federal government, and no one else can take it away. Read more at FCC.gov

Not only that, the FCC explicitly states that no one but the Federal government can interfere with WiFi networks (that’s right, even the State Police aren’t allowed to jam your WiFi). In fact, the FCC has been busy warning everyone that these jammers are illegal, no matter what vendors are saying:

“it is a violation of federal law to use a cell jammer or similar devices that intentionally block, jam, or interfere with authorized radio communications such as cell phones, police radar, GPS, and Wi-Fi. Despite some marketers’ claims, consumers cannot legally use jammers within the United States.” Read more at FCC.gov

Your Right to WiFi

What about sharing the connection with other devices, like Connectify Hotspot does? The FCC has considered this case, and ruled that in the US, using 2.4 GHz to “relay service to other customers” is not only legal, but protected. That means no landlord or similar organization has any right to prevent consumers from using WiFi for this purpose. Read more at FCC.gov

In other words, Marriott’s response to the FCC ruling is total BS. Consumers have a right to use products like Connectify Hotspot and MiFi LTE devices in order to do anything they want (well, except jam others, like Marriott did!), and hotels have no legal right to interfere in any way.

Together, these rulings mean that, here in the US, you have an absolute right to use Wi-Fi in any space that you’ve rented. Clauses in leases or hotel-stay contracts that say you cannot are simply not valid. So go ahead, pack your router, install Connectify Hotspot on your laptop, or throw that MiFi in your bag. It’s your right, so go use it.

–Alex
Connectify CEO
@alexgizis on Twitter

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