Convention Center Fined $600,000 for Jamming Visitors’ Mobile Access Points

This story won’t surprise anyone who’s been involved in trade show or event management:

The Marriott-run Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville was faced with a dilemma. Like all hotels and exhibition centers, it charges exhibitors and conference organizers exorbitant amounts for Internet access on trade-show floors, as well as nightly fees for guests…

Thanks to fast cellular networks and portable WiFi hotspots, though, these halls are losing their extortionate edge. A carryover from the days of a captive audience who had no other choice, the wheeze was always factored in as a cost of participating in trade shows and other events. Now, however, the 4G LTE standard–whose frequency range penetrates buildings far better than most older cellular technologies–offers data rates in the tens of Mbps…

The Gaylord Opryland came up with a clever plan. Some level of hotel management understood that its Wi-Fi intrusion-mitigation system came with a feature that could kick people off networks — and not just their own. So, as the FCC explains in a press release and consent order [PDF] released today, Marriott staff at the facility made it impossible for people in the vicinity to use personal hotspots, portable routers, and the like. This is a big no-no: a violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act. A clever visitor to the convention center — likely someone irritated at being knocked off his portable router over and over again — discovered the deauth behavior and reported it in March 2013 to the FCC…

Marriott (which acquired the property in 2012) is paying a $600,000 fine, and under the terms of the consent decree, must halt its Wi-Fi blocking and implement and report on a compliance plan at all its properties in America.

The lesson here? If you’re staying at a hotel and you keep getting knocked off of your own hotspot you might want to go in search of a geek to help you find out if the hotel is messing with you.

BTW, about ten years ago I sold trade show booths for one of my clients and the one thing I could count on was getting phone calls from exhibitors complaining about the cost to rent carpet, furniture, electrical service and, more than anything, the cost of internet connections. After the trade show was over the number one complaint on follow up surveys with the exhibitors was the crappy speed of the internet connections or the connection going down for hours at a time. Mobile hotspots were just coming online at the time and their signal strength was often terrible in the concrete bunkers that convention centers often resemble, but as the quality got better more and more exhibitors relied on them. That’s why it’s not a surprise a convention center would try this and, in fact, it’s really more surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to get caught.

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