Marriott, AH&LA withdraw petition that set off Wi-Fi blocking protest

Marriott International, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Ryman Hospitality Properties on Friday withdrew their petition with the FCC that sought rules and clarity around Wi-Fi networking management tools--also known as the "Wi-Fi blocking" petition.

Their petition, originally filed in August, eventually set off a storm of protest from Wi-Fi advocates who criticized the hotel industry for seeking FCC permission to block personal Wi-Fi hotspots at their venues.

After the FCC issued warnings earlier this week about how it will not tolerate Wi-Fi blocking, the petitioners now say they are abandoning that petition in order to more quickly and comprehensively "address some of the pressing security questions raised by petitioners" and focus efforts on establishing the American Hotel & Lodging Association Cybersecurity Task Force.

In a letter to the FCC, the AH&LA said it's concerned about the increasing number of cybersecurity attacks, and "the hospitality industry felt compelled to raise this pressing issue with the FCC." Of particular concern is the ability of a hotel to protect the security of its network and guests by using wireless intrusion detection and prevention systems that are part of WLAN equipment authorized by the FCC, the association said.

Petitioners believe that "very real threats" still exist, so the hospitality industry is establishing the industry task force that will partner with experts and leaders in the technology sector to find and implement the most effective market-based solutions to tackle cyber threats, the letter said.

Marriott issued a separate statement on its website. "Our intent was to protect personal data in Wi-Fi hotspots for large conferences," said Bruce Hoffmeister, global chief information officer, Marriott International, in the statement. "We thought we were doing the right thing asking the FCC to provide guidance, but the FCC has indicated its opposition."

Marriott previously said and reiterated that it will not block Wi-Fi signals at any hotel it manages for any reason. And in a pitch for the Marriott Rewards program, Hoffmeister noted that as of Jan. 15, the hotel chain provides free Wi-Fi to all members of its rewards program who book directly with Marriott. "We're doing everything we can to promote our customers' connectivity using mobile and other devices, and we're working with the industry to find security solutions that do not involve blocking our guests' use of their Wi-Fi devices," he said.

Earlier this week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made it clear that the FCC isn't going to tolerate Wi-Fi blocking by hotels or other establishments. The entire saga, starting with Marriott's settlement with the FCC's Enforcement Bureau last year over its blocking Wi-Fi at the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville, has made consumers, already peeved by over-priced hotel Wi-Fi services, even more angry.

Just three days ago, the AH&LA said its intent with the petition was not to restrict personal Wi-Fi use but to "clear up the confusion that exists around the steps businesses can take to protect guest data from rogue operators or criminals targeting the attendees at large events and meetings."

The AH&LA also said at that time that it was convening an industry task force to develop "practical, market-based solutions" and was collaborating with technology, telecom and other sectors to address the issue.  

Some Wi-Fi network equipment vendors, like Aruba Networks, said they were disappointed that the FCC didn't take the opportunity to clarify rules that govern Wi-Fi and under what circumstances using Wi-Fi containment technology is allowed.

For more:
- see the Marriott's statement

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