FCC Fines Hilton and M.C. Dean for Blocking Guests' Wi-Fi
This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent a shot across the bow of the hotel and convention center industry with fines against two companies in connection with the Wi-Fi blocking practice. The Baltimore Convention Center’s Wi-Fi provider, M.C. Dean Inc., and Hilton Worldwide Holdings were both penalized as a results of investigations into whether they deliberately cut their guests off from the Internet.
Blocking Wi-Fi for guests appears to be becoming a feature, rather than a bug, of hotel and convention center business. The sector seems to increasingly rely on the business practice of stopping guests from accessing the Internet unless they pay exorbitant fees to connect to the hotel or convention center network.
A Thousand Dollars for Wi-Fi
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau investigation found that M.C. Dean blocked the personal mobile “hotspots” of convention visitors and exhibitors who tried to use their own data plans to connect to the Internet rather than paying to use the company’s Wi-Fi service. The company, one of the nation’s largest electrical contracting companies and the exclusive provider of Wi-Fi access at the Baltimore Convention Center, was fined $718,000 as a result of the investigation.
“Consumers are tired of being taken advantage of by hotels and convention centers that block their personal Wi-Fi connections,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau in a statement. “This disturbing practice must come to an end. It is patently unlawful for any company to maliciously block FCC-approved Wi-Fi connections.”
Although it might sound like a minor inconvenience, the costs can be significant. The FCC found that M.C. Dean forced exhibitors and visitors to pay as much as $1,095 per event to connect to Wi-Fi. The equipment the company used also had a spillover effect, blocking Wi-Fi signals to devices outside the convention center and unconnected to the event.
Hilton on the Hot Seat
Hilton, meanwhile, is still under investigation by the FCC and has yet to be formally accused of any wrongdoing. But the agency said it will fine the company $25,000 for allegedly obstructing its ongoing investigation into whether the hotel chain blocked guests’ Wi-Fi connections at its hotels and resorts.
The FCC has been investigating Hilton for the past year, but said that so far the company has failed to hand over requested information about the company in general, its corporate policies, and its Wi-Fi policies. The agency said that Hilton could face substantially larger fines if it didn’t start cooperating immediately.
The investigation began last year with consumer complaints that Hilton was blocking guests’ abilities to set up Wi-Fi hotspots to force them to pay $500 to connect to Wi-Fi networks provided by the hotel chain.
The FCC has been on something of a crusade against Wi-Fi blocking in the last year. Last October, the agency 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, Tenn. And in August, the FCC fined Smart City Holdings $750,000 for similar Wi-Fi blocking at multiple convention centers across the country. The Communications Act prohibits individuals and companies from maliciously blocking Wi-Fi
Posted: 2015-11-04 @ 3:22pm PT
Well done, FCC. Crooks like M.C. Dean Inc. and whoever conspires with them should be put out of business.