The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Enforcement Bureau has proposed a $25,000 fine against Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc. for its apparent obstruction of an investigation into whether Hilton engaged in the blocking of consumers' Wi-Fi devices.
In its enforcement order, the Bureau directs Hilton to immediately provide essential information and documents about its Wi-Fi management practices and warns the company that it may face a significantly higher fine for any continued obstruction or delay.
"Hotel guests deserve to have their Wi-Fi blocking complaints investigated by the Commission," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau. "To permit any company to unilaterally redefine the scope of our investigation would undermine the independent search for the truth and the due administration of the law."
In August 2014, the FCC received an initial consumer complaint alleging that the Hilton in Anaheim, California blocked visitors' Wi-Fi hot spots unless those consumers paid a $500 fee to access Hilton's Wi-Fi. The Commission also reports receiving Wi-Fi blocking complaints involving other Hilton properties.
In November 2014, the Bureau issued Hilton a letter of inquiry seeking some basic company information, relevant corporate policies, and specifics regarding Wi-Fi management practices at Hilton-brand properties in the United States. After nearly one year, the Bureau says that 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 Communications Act prohibits persons and companies from maliciously blocking Wi-Fi communications. The FCC has taken three Wi-Fi blocking enforcement actions since last year. In October 2014, the FCC fined Marriott International, Inc. and Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. $600,000 for similar Wi-Fi blocking activities at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. In August 2015, the FCC fined Smart City Holdings, LLC $750,000 for similar Wi-Fi blocking at multiple convention centers across the country. The Commission also recently proposed to fine M.C. Dean $718,000 for apparent Wi-Fi blocking at the Baltimore Convention Center.
The FCC is urging hotels, convention centers, and other commercial establishments to review their practices to ensure that there is no unlawful blocking of Wi-Fi communications. The Commission issued a similarly stern warning in January of this year.