Marriott backs off its WiFi blocking plan

The hotel chain Marriott International, which had gotten into hot water over blocking WiFi signals at a conference center in Tennessee, has backed off a request to the Federal Communications Commission to make such blocking legal.

Marriott was under mounting pressure from consumers to back off the plan, including a Care2.com petition drive that drew more than 15,000 people as of Thursday.

"Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal WiFi devices at any of our managed hotels," the company said in a statement. "Marriott remains committed to protecting the security of WiFi access in meeting and conference areas at our hotels. We will continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of WiFi devices."

In October, Marriott agreed to pay $600,000 in penalties to settle FCC charges that the hotel chain blocked personal WiFi signals, forcing attendees at a conference to pay to get access to a Marriott WiFi system. It costs participants in that event $250-$1,000 to connect to the Marriott WiFi.

"It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel's own WiFi network," an FCC official said at the time. "This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether."

The American Hospitality and Lodging Association and Marriott had petitioned the FCC to change the rules and allow blocking, arguing that the relatively common mobile WiFi transmitters that work off of cellular service use unlicensed frequencies and shouldn't be protected under federal law.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.