Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

Cover Story

FCC to Hotels: Don’t Block Wi-Fi;
AH&LA Turns to Task Force on Cybersecurity

The controversy that flared up when the Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott International for “hotspot jamming” earlier this year has flamed out.

On January 30, Marriott, Ryman Hospitality Properties and the American Hotel & Lodging Association formally withdrew their petition to the FCC for a declaratory ruling that the operator of a Wi-Fi network does not violate Section 333 of the Communications Act in its use of “FCC-authorized equipment to monitor and mitigate threats to the security and reliability of its network.” An overwhelming number of public comments to the FCC had opposed Wi-Fi blocking/jamming, from heavyweights Microsoft, Google and Consumer Electronics Association, along with business travelers, meeting planners, small business owners and consumers.

The petition withdrawal came just a few days after the FCC issued an Enforcement Advisory warning 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.” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler piled on with his own strongly worded statement against hotel Wi-Fi blocking, promising enforcement “if others act similarly” to Marriott.

The petitioners clearly saw the writing on the wall. “Our intent was to protect personal data in Wi-Fi hotspots for large conferences,” stated Bruce Hoffmeister, Global Chief Information Officer, Marriott International. “We thought we were doing the right thing asking the FCC to provide guidance, but the FCC has indicated its opposition…We’re working with the industry to find security solutions that do not involve blocking our guests’ use of their Wi-Fi devices.” In its statement, AH&LA acknowledged that “we must work in other ways to resolve this issue of consumer safety and cybersecurity,” and announced it is convening the AH&LA Cybersecurity Task Force. Its goal is “to develop practical, market-based solutions and collaborate with partners in the technology, telecommunications and other sectors, as well as with the FCC and other government officials. This is particularly important for those hundreds of thousands of groups conducting meetings, conferences and trade shows in hotels annually – events that require a thorough approach to security.” Still in its early stages, the task force plans to work within a two-to-three-month timeframe, according to an AH&LA spokesperson.

Anyone who suspects Wi-Fi blocking can file a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints or call 888-225-5322. Maxine Golding

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

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