It seemed like a good idea at the time. Hotels, miffed by guests who used their own wi-fi hotspots instead of paying $12 or more to use the hotels' in-house systems, decided to try blocking personal hotspots.

It didn't work out too well. It turns out it's illegal to interfere with legal radio transmissions and the Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott $600,000 for blocking guests' wi-fi at a Nashville Marriott.

Stung, Marriott, Hilton and hotel trade groups then petitioned the FCC asking for a waiver that would let them soak guests without fear of fines.

No dice, said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a strongly-worded statement.

“Consumers must get what they pay for," Wheeler said. "The Communications Act prohibits anyone from willfully or maliciously interfering with authorized radio communications, including Wi-Fi. Marriott’s request seeking the FCC’s blessing to block guests’ use of non-Marriott networks is contrary to this basic principle."

Wheeler warned that future infractions will be dealt with harshly.

"Protecting consumers from this kind of interference is a priority area for the FCC Enforcement Bureau. The Enforcement Bureau recently imposed a $600,000 fine on Marriott for this kind of conduct, and the FCC will continue to enforce the Communications Act if others act similarly."

Censors beware

The prohibition, of course, does not apply only to hotels. Churches, schools, theaters and other venues have been known to block -- or jam -- cell phone and wi-fi transmissions, hoping to prevent phones ringing and iChats bleeping during sermons, cantatas, lectures and so forth. 

Some had argued that jamming wi-fi and cellphone calls is permissible because such devices are not licensed. It's true that you don't need a license to use a cellphone but the wireless carriers are licensed and the use of the devices is legal under the Communications Act, meaning it's protected from jamming by those who think they should have total control of their guests, congregants, students and what-have-you. 


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