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FCC fines companies for blocking Wi-Fi signals

The Federal Communications Commission is fining a Wi-Fi provider for blocking people from using personal wireless technology to access the Internet.

The agency late Monday proposed a $718,000 fine against Wi-Fi provider M.C. Dean for interfering with and disabling consumers' Wi-Fi "hotspots" at the Baltimore Convention Center between November and December of 2014. That activity also allegedly disrupted Wi-Fi signals outside the venue, including in passing vehicles.

The Dulles, Virginia, firm provides Internet services, including Wi-Fi, to the convention center. That included selling Internet services to exhibitors and attendees.

"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."

M.C. Dean said in a statement that it will challenge the proposed fine, saying it complied with applicable law and ensured that visitors could use their personal Wi-Fi devices at the convention center.

The FCC also is proposing a $25,000 fine against Hilton Worldwide Holdings (HLT) for allegedly obstructing the agency's investigation into whether the hotel chain blocked consumers' Wi-Fi devices unless they paid a $500 fee to access its own mobile network.

Hilton Worldwide disagreed with the FCC decision to fine the company, saying it had cooperated with the agency's probe.

"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," a spokesperson for the hotel giant said in a statement. "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... .We believe that the FCC has no basis for vastly expanding the initial inquiry based on a single complaint at a single Hilton hotel."

Telecommunications regulators have increasingly taken action against companies that block Wi-Fi. The FCC in 2014 fined Marriott International (MAR) and Marriott Hotel Services $600,000 for interfering with guests' mobile signals at Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. In August, tech services provider Smart City Holdings was fined $750,000 for similar blocking at a number of convention centers around the U.S.