FCC Warns Businesses Against Wi-Fi Blocking, Hints at Further Enforcement Actions

FCC Warns Businesses Against Wi-Fi Blocking, Hints at Further Enforcement Actions
Image: Pixabay
January 28, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to make itself clear: Wi-Fi blocking of any kind is illegal and strictly prohibited. Persons or businesses causing intentional interference with personal Wi-Fi networks, or "hot spots,"are subject to enforcement action.

The agency issued the stern warning in a public notice posted on its website. In the notice, the FCC says that its Enforcement Bureau has "seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment's premises."

As a result, the agency says that it is "aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference."

In October 2014, the FCC fined Marriott International, Inc. $600,000 for blocking Wi-Fi hot spot use at one of its convention centers in Nashville, Tennessee. Marriott claimed that it was only trying to protect guests from "rogue" hot spots, though that argument didn't fly with the FCC. The agency alleged that Marriott deployed a Wi-Fi deauthentication protocol to deliberately block consumers who sought to connect to the Internet using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots.

Marriott later admitted that the customers it blocked did not pose a security threat to the Marriott network and agreed to settle the investigation by paying the fine.

Since the settlement was reached with Marriott, the FCC says that is has received several complaints that other commercial Wi-Fi network operators may be disrupting the legitimate operation of personal Wi-Fi hot spots. The agency says that its Enforcement Bureau is investigating such complaints and will take appropriate action against violators.

In its statement, the FCC reminds businesses that "No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner's Wi-Fi network. Such action is illegal and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties."

Additionally, the agency reiterates that Federal law prohibits the operation, marketing, or sale of any type of jamming equipment, including devices that interfere with Wi-Fi, cellular, or public safety communications. Detailed information about the prohibition against jamming is available on the Commission's website at https://www.fcc.gov/general/jammer-enforcement.

If you have reason to believe that your personal Wi-Fi hot spot has been blocked, the FCC encourages you to file a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints or by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC.