Saturday, November 7, 2015

Lots of money is at stake.
Hilton has become the latest hotel chain to face
government fines for allegedly blocking their guests' personal Wi-Fi
hotspots.
It joins a growing list of hotel and convention centers that have
been accused of falling afoul of federal law, which forbids such activity.
There's big money at stake.
A facility can earn hundreds of thousands of
dollars from selling wireless access, and for some hoteliers, income from
Wi-Fi subscriptions can mean the difference between profit and loss.
In recent months, though, the FCC has cracked down on hotels and convention
centers.
Among the fines: In October 2014, Marriott agreed to pay
$600,000 to resolve an FCC investigation.
In August, trade show and convention telecom services provider Smart City
Holdings LLC was fined $750,000 for Wi-Fi blocking at several sites.
The FCC also is proposing a $718,000 fine against systems integration firm
M.C.
Dean Inc.
for alleged Wi-Fi blocking at the Baltimore Convention Center.
The Hilton case began a year ago, when the Federal Communication
Commissions (FCC) Enforcement Bureau received a complaint that the Hilton
Anaheim in Anaheim, Calif., a convention hotel a mile away from Disneyland,
was blocking visitors' personal Wi-Fi hotspots unless they paid the hotel a
$500 fee for Hilton's Wi-Fi.
The government alleges the hotel failed to com
ply with its inquiry.
The FCC proposed a $25,000 fine against Hilton, "for apparently willfully
and repeatedly violating a commission order by failing to respond to the
bureau's letter of inquiry and obstructing the Bureau's investigation into
whether Hilton willfully interferes with consumer Wi-Fi devices in
Hilton-brand hotel and resort properties across the United States." "We
strongly disagree with the decision by the FCC Enforcement Bureau," says
Aaron Radelet, a Hilton spokesman.
"Hilton supports open access to private
Wi-Fi networks for our customers through their personal devices, while at the
same time protecting their personal information.
We have a policy in place
that states our commitment to secure open access and prohibits hotels from
blocking Wi-Fi, and it is repeatedly communicated to all properties."
Radelet insists the company cooperated with the FCC by providing extensive
background and details in "a timely and efficient manner." He notes Hilton
did not block Wi-Fi to collect a fee and that it hasn't been notified of any
other complaints.
Why block Wi-Fi? Sometimes hotels engage in access-point blocking in an
effort to preserve the quality of its own guest Wi-Fi, according to Ben
Miller, a Wi-Fi expert who blogs at Sniffwifi.
"A fundamental rule in any
Wi-Fi deployment is that performance suffers when more than one access point
operates on the same channel in the same place," he says.
"When guests set
up personal hotspots, that often happens." Marriott justified blocking
Wi-Fi hotspots last year using those reasons.
But the FCC gave the hotel chain
a $600,000 government fine for allegedly interfering with its guests'
personal wireless hotspots at one of its large convention properties.
The
hotel chain argued that it is having the authority to disrupt these
connections would make customers less vulnerable to hackers and
"unauthorized network access." Interestingly, Marriott petitioned the
FCC to clarify its rules on managing its wireless networks.
At the time,
Hilton and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group, also
supported its efforts.
But under intense pressure from guests and consumer
advocates, the petition was quietly withdrawn earlier this year.
Better wireless networks Although interference with an existing Wi-Fi
network is a legitimate problem, the solution isn't to block other networks,
some say.
Instead, hotels and convention centers have to construct a better
wireless network, says Casey Collins, CEO of C3-Wireless, which builds
wireless networks for the travel industry.
The systems, he adds, must be designed to carefully, "using proper channel
spacing and power settings over enterprise-class equipment.
For example, most
of the interference issues exist in the 2.4 GHz band, so hotels should design
systems in the 5 GHz band range, where there is more space and less usage, and
deploy advanced techniques such as band steering.
"The alternative is a
hodgepodge of conflicting networks, creating such congestion that nobody's
Wi-Fi network works well — including the venue's." What should guests
do? Hotel guests are right to ask if their personal hotspot is being
blocked.
Among hotel and convention center operators, the idea that you can
block a "rogue" access point is justified, in sharp contrast to the
FCC's stated position, Collins adds.
If you suspect your hotspot isn't
working right because of interference, you could contacting the hotel's IT
department to get your device whitelisted, which means the blocking system
will see the MAC address of your device and allow it to pass traffic.
But he
admits it's a long shot.
And if that doesn't work? "Tell the hotel manager that you'll complain
to the FCC if the hotel does not cease blocking your personal hotspots,"
says Miller.
And then do it.
This story originally appeared on Fortune More good reads from Fortune:
• If Starwood is sold, here's what could happen to your points
• Airbnb Spends More Than $8 Million in San Francisco Fight
• Bigger bins may quell fight for overhead space

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