At the end of 2014, Marriott and the American Hospitality & Lodging Association made waves by petitioning the FCC for the right to block personal Wi-Fi hotspots at their venues. The backlash was immediate and fierce. Everyone from consumer advocates to tech powerhouses like Microsoft and Google opposed the petition, and soon, Marriott was backpedaling. Sensing a marketing window, some rival hotel groups have used this as an opportunity to set their Wi-Fi free. Hyatt recently announced plans to offer free Wi-Fi in its properties around the world this February.
All of the buzz surrounding this hotel amenity underscore the huge consumer demand for Wi-Fi. We’ve grown accustomed to connecting to high-speed wireless networks from just about anywhere. Some of our mobile devices even double as high speed Wi-Fi access points — just in case we happen to be somewhere that doesn’t have a public network.
Security vs. Consumer Freedom
Marriott’s chief claim in its petition is based (ostensibly) on the network security of its guests. The group maintains that they need to be able to jam rogue Wi-Fi networks at their venues that could dupe guests into unwittingly sending sensitive information over unsecure “dummy” networks.
Conversely, hotels typically charge guests either an hourly or daily rate for access to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, and for booth exhibitors in their conference rooms, that rate can be upwards of a thousand dollars. It’s no wonder that consumers who already pay for mobile hotspots with their data plans are balking at the idea of a venue jamming their portable wireless network.
When it comes to Wi-Fi, network security and consumer freedom are both valid concerns. However, a consumer’s right to utilize a personal hotspot and data plan should not be trumped by a last-ditch revenue protection effort disguised a security policy.
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