Hotel chain Marriott International has agreed to pay $600,000 (£375,500) in fines after accusations that staff members were blocking mobile hotspots and charging guests up to $1,000 per device to connect to the hotel's wi-fi.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched an investigation into the chain's practices in March 2013 following a complaint alleging that staff at the Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville, Tennessee were using signal jammers within the hotel's convention centre to prevent visitors establishing mobile wi-fi hotspots.
Marriott denies any wrongdoing on its part, claiming that it's in its best interest to ensure that guests use the wi-fi services it provides, and that "rogue wireless hotspots" can be used to undermine its own service and launch cyberattacks.
"Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its wi-fi network by using FCC-authorised equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers," said a Marriott International representative in a statement. "We believe that the Gaylord Opryland's actions were lawful. We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today's action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy."
According to the FCC investigation, once the Gaylord Opryland staff ensured there were no other wi-fi hotspots to compete with its own, it proceeded to charge guests between $250 and $1,000 per device to connect to the hotel's wi-fi network.
"Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference centre," said Travis LeBlanc, enforcement bureau chief for the FCC. "It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel's own wi-fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether."