I am happily ensconced this morning at that beautiful Villa Pinciana not far from the Roman steps in Roma, Italy. Besides the beauty of this location and this hotel, one other thing is likely to stand out for American travelers not just at this but virtually all hotels in this country: free wifi. As many of you know, I have long complained about the practice of high-end hotels charging ridiculous fees for wifi while cheaper hotels (and countless coffee shops, restaurants, and other establishments) offer it for free.(Here and here and here) It is an open gouging of business travelers but these hotels which are charging hundreds of a night only to demand that guests pay them for something free on the street. Now there is a small victory against the corporate greed of high-end hotels. Marriott has agreed to pay a $600,000 fine after the Federal Communications Commission found the company blocked consumer Wi-Fi networks last year during an event at a hotel and conference center in Nashville. Of course, nothing changes in Marriott ripping off guests for wifi generally, but they stand to do the electronic version of poisoning wells to force travelers to drink at their well.
It turns out that Marriott was charging exhibitors and others as much as $1,000 per device to access the hotel’s wireless network while blocking their Wi-Fi access. The way Marriott sabotaged its own guests was by using “containment features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system” at the hotel to prevent people from accessing their own personal Wi-Fi networks. The hotel was forced to agree to stop the practice at all of its properties, not just the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. I would love to know who busted the hotel. In March 2013, someone sent the FCC a complaint that the hotel was “jamming mobile hot spots so that you can’t use them in the convention space.”
Marriott however agreed to the settlement but still insists that it was acting entirely appropriately: “Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft.” Wow, forcing people to pay $1,000 a device was Marriott way of protecting people from unscrupulous actors.
Here is the FCC press release.
What continues to amaze me is that high-end American hotels continue to rip off travelers when most of the market offer free wi-fi as a basic feature for guests. It turns out that Marriott is only “Your home away from home” if you come from an incredibly abusive and usurious family.