Google, Microsoft, Wireless Carriers Form Rare Alliance To Battle Marriott's Dumb Wi-Fi 'Jamming'
from the a-fight-you're-just-not-going-to-win dept
Back in October we noted how the FCC had fined Marriott $600,000 for the company’s decision to block cellular signals in the company’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville. The move was pretty clearly intended to prevent people from using their tethered modems and cellular hotspots, instead forcing convention attendees to use Marriott’s absurdly pricey (and frequently awful) Wi-Fi service. While Marriott agreed to pay the fine, the company tried to feebly defend itself by proclaiming it was only looking out for the security and safety of their customers (what a sweetheart):
“Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft,” the statement said. “Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers.”
While Marriott is bullshitting their way around what’s clearly a transparent ploy to make money, both Marriott and some observers have argued that what Marriott’s actually doing may not technically be illegal under anti-jamming provisions of section 333 of the Communications Act. That’s because Marriott isn’t technically jamming cellular signal, it’s using a deauthentication attack — or sending packets that misleadingly disrupt communications between a client and router, making using your mobile hotspot or tethered modem impossible. Hardware vendors commonly sell gear that can accomplish this, and the practice is very common at hospitals, some corporate campuses, and events like Defcon.
Of course even if Marriott were able to successfully legally argue this defense, it doesn’t mean it isn’t behaving badly. The FCC also seems unlikely to listen as some very heavy hitters this week entered the conversation. In a rare show of solidarity for companies often on very different sides of key tech issues, Microsoft, Google and wireless carriers have joined forces to yell at Marriott in new filings with the FCC. All of the filings argue that yes, Marriott’s behavior does violate Section 333, and yes — it’s really just about Marriott being uncompetitive to make money:
“The Commission?s authority to prohibit the interference described by Petitioners is found in the plain language of Section 333 and supported by general grants of power in Section 303, as well as other provisions of the Communications Act. Contrary to Petitioners? allegations, moreover, the Commission?s Rule 15.5(b) does not exempt unlicensed devices from protection against intentional, harmful interference. Under its statutory authority, and consistent with its Part 15 rules, the Commission has categorically warned against the use of equipment that blocks or jams authorized communications and recently found against the exact practices described in the petition.”
Given the Sisyphean feat of battling the government, public perception, and some of the most wealthy and politically powerful technology companies in the world just so you can sell some over-priced Wi-Fi, the path of least resistance for Marriott would probably be to just stop behaving like a jackass.