A couple months ago, Marriott got busted by the FCC for blocking personal hotspots of its guests at its Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville. It was a simple plan: break everyone's WiFi at a tradeshow, and then charge exhibitors $1,000 a pop to access the "official" hotel WiFi.

It should be obvious how wrong Marriott was in this business, and they should be glad they only have a $600,000 FCC fine to deal with. But apparently they don't see it that way. Marriott is now petitioning FCC for permission to block. Marriott calls itself a "Wi-Fi network operator," and therefore wants to wants to "manage [its] network" for, um, you know, security and reliability and stuff.

So I'd just like to take a brief moment to point out a few things:


The method Marriott used to "manage their networks in order to provide a secure and reliable Wi-Fi service to guests on their premises," was a literal hacker-style attack on the personal WiFi of guests on their premises. It sent messages to WiFi hotspots and users of those WiFi hotspots to attempt to deauthenticate them — if you can break the handshake, you can usually break or severely degrade the connection.


Okay point two is more like a story. When I was a tech journalist, I relied heavily on personal WiFi hotspots at events. If the event was important enough, I'd often have three internet access options ready to go: a Verizon hotspot, a Sprint hotspot, and my own AT&T phone capable of tethering as a last resort. At Engadget we made our money by being on the scene at a gadget launch event and being the fastest to get the news up on the internet. Over time, free WiFi has become more commonplace, but it can never be a crutch: being the journalist with backup internet becomes a big differentiator when you competitors are being disappointed by "official" WiFi.

Why do I tell this whole story in the middle of this series of bullet points? It's because WiFi access isn't just about some business transaction between rich exhibitors and rich convention center owners, it's about communication. When you block legitimate WiFi, you literally inhibit communication.


OMG Marriott if you just charged something reasonable for WiFi at conferences (like $5 or $50 I dunno just not $1000) then you wouldn't have everybody and their mom setting up personal WiFi hotspots. Yes, overlapping WiFi signals can interfere with each other. You can do two things to stop that from happening: break everybody's WiFi in clear violation of the spirit and law of the unlicensed wireless spectrum that WiFi inhabits, or offer a better alternative to personal hotspots inside your convention center.


And now maybe I'm beating a dead horse, but I just want to point out whose "network" WiFi in any vicinity is: nobody and everybody's. It's unlicensed spectrum for a reason. Go ahead, manage your network, boot off rogue connections, maybe even go after those "Free WiFi" spoofers trying to steal everyone's credit card info, but don't break someone else's network. It's not your spectrum, just your network.


Imagine we're all sharing a river. And we're manufacturers. And you're upstream from me, and...

Oh never mind. Just stop, Marriott.

About Paul Miller

That guy who left the internet for a year