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Feds issue warning against blocking Wi-Fi

Federal regulators are putting companies on notice that it is against the law to block or interfere with individuals’ Wi-Fi signals.

After slapping Marriott with a $600,000 fine for blocking guests’ personal Wi-Fi hot spots, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is warning other companies not to test its rules.

“Consumers must get what they pay for,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement on Tuesday.

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Federal law prohibits people knowingly interfering with others’ radio communications, which includes Wi-Fi signals generated by their smartphone or other personal devices. 

Some hotels and other businesses, however, have attempted to do just that, in order to force people to pay for access to their corporate Internet network.

In October, the FCC announced that Marriott would pay $600,000 over charges that it routinely “interfered with and disabled” Wi-Fi networks at a hotel and convention center in Nashville, Tenn., by falsely claiming that the personal Wi-Fi signals posed a security threat to its network. Wheeler wants other businesses to know that they could be in its crosshairs.

In an advisory published on Tuesday, the FCC called the rise of companies blocking personal Wi-Fi hot spots “a disturbing trend,” but said it would be “aggressively investigating and acting against” the practice. 

“No hotel, convention center or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hotspots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi‑Fi network,” the FCC said in its notice.

At the same time, the agency also told consumers that they should file a complaint if they think their personal Wi-Fi hot spot has been blocked.