PhotoYou ever notice how hotels are always a decade or two behind? It wasn't long ago you could put a quarter in the slot and get a massage from your bed. And they're still trying to charge for in-room movies, having not yet gotten wind of the iPad. 

Not long ago, hotels made out like bandits when they began treating their telephone systems as cash machines -- charging guests for making calls and even, worst-case scenario, charging by the minute. Of course, that was just about the time everyone got a cell phone so all those expensive highway-robbery phone systems began gathering dust.

All of this would be weird-old-aunt amusing if it weren't for the latest insidious plot -- blocking personal wi-fi hotspots. Yes, you read that right. Big hotel chains are lusting to install devices that will block your smartphone's ability to work as your own personal broadband hotspots.

Good plan, but illegal

This is, as it should be, illegal at the moment. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not allow unlicensed devices that interfere with lawful communications. But Marriott and other hotel chains are working to change that.

They want the FCC to amend its rules to allow them to block their guests from having any broadband contact with the outside world that doesn't go through them. This might be called the North Korea school of communications policy.

But the tech industry, which is not nearly as keen on lobbying as it it maybe should be, is fighting back. Google and Microsoft are the latest tech giants to sign onto an industry lobbying effort to block the hotels' efforts to block the rest of us from breaking out of the walled gardens the hotels are planting.

Marriott has good reason to want the FCC's rules changed. It was fined $600,000 in October after the FCC found that it had blocked consumer Wi-Fi networks during a convention at a Nashville hotel. The hotel had demanded that consumers pay up to $1,000 per device to use its wi-fi network instead of the broadband service they already had. 

Hilton is also on board with the effort to stifle its guests.

“Hilton could not meet its guests’ expectations were it unable to manage its Wi-Fi networks, including taking steps to protect against unauthorized access points that pose a threat to the reliability and security of that network,” Hilton Worldwide wrote in a recent filing in support of Marriott and the hotel industry’s request, according to

In its filing, Google said that while it "recognizes the importance of leaving operators flexibility to manage their own networks, this does not include intentionally blocking access to other Commission-authorized networks, particularly where the purpose or effect of that interference is to drive traffic to the interfering operator’s own network (often for a fee)."

Better coffee

PhotoWhat hotels have perhaps not considered is the effect the wi-fi ban might have on their restaurants and coffee shops. After all, the coffee is better and the wi-fi is free at Starbucks, which is quite likely just around the corner from the hotel.

Most hotel eateries aren't exactly gastronomic delights anyway. Turning remaining customers into wi-fi hostages may not be the greatest marketing idea ever.

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