Google and Microsoft Challenge Hotels in Wi-Fi Debate

December 2014

Google and Microsoft Challenge Hotels in Wi-Fi Debate

While the latest flashy gadgets and technology tend to steal the spotlight each holiday season, the continued debate over wireless access at hotels—whether for individual purposes or to accommodate larger groups—will likely have some of the biggest implications in 2015.

Several months ago, the FCC fined Marriott $600,000 for blocking the use of personal hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and Marriott International responded with a petition arguing that a hotel operator should be able to use equipment to manage its network, even if it "may result in interference with or cause interference to" a guest's wireless device, as a matter of safety against malicious software and other web-based attacks.

Beyond network security, AH&LA argued that "unauthorized access points can hinder the ability of meeting or convention attendees to access" hotel provided Wi-Fi. It noted this interference could slow down connections and lead to dissatisfied customers.

Hilton Worldwide voiced its support of the petition for reliability and security reasons.

Meanwhile, Google and Microsoft have sided with the wireless industry's lobbying group and others who oppose the hotel industry's petition, stating that AH&LA and others are using the issues of reliability and safety as a guise for their true intentions of keeping guests dependent on hotel wireless networks, which often come at a premium to the user.

More specifically, Google mentioned that "allowing hotels or other property owners to deliberately block third parties' access to Wi-Fi signals would undermine the public interest benefits of unlicensed use."

Microsoft added that the FCC has already ruled that Wi-Fi jamming and interference is prohibited, so the current petition by members of the hotel industry should be rejected.

Google and Microsoft separately argued that there are other ways to provide secure wireless access without blocking the use of hotspots and made the additional case that blocking these sorts of personal devices could actually compromise health and safety in emergency situations where voice service is not available and a dependable wireless signal is needed.

The debate over Wi-Fi accessibility remains a complex issue and ideally, as major hotel brands—such as Hyatt—move toward providing free, reliable, Wi-Fi access for the general user, less guests will feel forced to turn to third party options to get connected.

Then hotels can work to find a balance between overall reliability and security, and adjust the rates they charge groups for bandwidth usage at meetings and conventions accordingly.


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