An open letter to Marriott: I’m staying elsewhere as long as you want to block my WiFi hotspot


Dear Marriott:

Your focus on the business traveler experience has made your hotels my first choice when I have to hit the road for work. However, your anti-consumer stance on WiFi has me rethinking that choice. In fact, all the business I’ve been giving Marriott over the years could well be going to Hyatt, which seems to your polar opposite.

You—with the assistance of your lobbying group, the American Hospitality & Lodging Association—have petitioned the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to let you install and activate equipment that will block guests from using WiFi hotspots. In the petition, you claim these hotspots can be used to hack the hotel’s network and compromise guest privacy. You also assert that the use of personal WiFi hotspots can degrade the performance of your own WiFi network, slowing down access for guests who pay to use it.

Nobody’s arguing that these threats exist, or that you have a right to mitigate them. But denying a guest the right to use their own technology at all isn’t the way to go about protecting your network. Microsoft—which was incensed enough about your request to file its own petition opposing you—calls blocking “a blunt instrument that interferes with the operations of authorized devices, including ones that are not a part of the hotels’ own networks. Such willful interference against others’ authorized uses of unlicensed spectrum is precisely what Section 333 prohibits.”

You already know the rules don’t allow you to jam hotspots; the FCC fined you $600,000 earlier this year for doing just that. Your petition is an end run to get those rules changed.

(Microsoft isn’t alone in its opposition. Among others who have joined to prevent this anti-consumer action is Google.)

Let’s be honest. Your real interest isn’t protecting your networks, since there are other, less “blunt” means by which you could accomplish that goal. What you want is for me and everyone else who stays in a Marriott property to pay to use your service. I have paid nearly $20 for hotel WiFi whose performance reminded me of the old dial-up days. And the cost of using WiFi in a conference center can be so high as to present event organizers with a dilemma—pay through the nose or deny online access to attendees.

Most of the 21 petitions filed in opposition to yours agree that these WiFi fees are the real reason you want to block hotspots.

I pay a $50 monthly fee to T-Mobile for perfectly legal 4G service on a perfectly legal personal WiFi hotspot device. I don’t pay this fee just to deny some extra profit to Marriott, but because, as a business traveler, I find myself in a number of situations where I need to get online on a laptop or tablet. The idea that I’m paying this fee but can’t take advantage of it because I just happen to be on your property is insulting. You’re forcing me to pay twice for a service just to line your own pockets.

But then again, I suspect if you could find a legal way to block guests from using their phones to make voice calls so you could charge them to use the phone you have provided in each room, you would. Hell, you’d probably like to find a way to charge for each flush of the toilet.

A couple years ago, I checked in to a Delta hotel in Canada. On the front desk, a sign informed me that WiFi was free. I’m accustomed to seeing that in lower-end hotels; even your own lower-price hotels, like the Fairfield Inn, make WiFi available for free. Delta, though, is a higher-end hotel. The sign proclaimed that Internet connectivity was a necessity for travelers, not a luxury, and therefore was offered at no cost.

While you are busy lobbying to force guests to pay to use your network, Hyatt announced earlier this week that WiFi in guest rooms and public spaces would be free at all of its properties worldwide by February. Kristine Rose, VP of brands for Hyatt, echoed Delta’s sentiment when she said, “Internet connectivity is no longer an amenity. It has become an integral part of travelers’ daily lives and a basic expecdtation. Travelers shouldn’t have to remember which brands or locations offer it for free or the strings attached to get it.”

Hyatt isn’t alone. Mandarin Orientals and Four Seasons are providing free WiFi. Even your own Ritz-Carlton brand—plans to make WiFi free to guests.

It’s simple, Marriott. If you’re genuinely concerned about mobile WiFi hotspots causing security problems, and you’re not willing to use anything but a blunt approach to dealing with it, you can easily address the problem by returning to your consumer-friendly culture by jumping on the bandwagon and making WiFi available without a cost. After all, 87% of guests polled in a Wall Street Journal survey said WiFi ought to be free in hotels.

Until you do—and certainly as long as you try to get the government to endorse your WiFi extortion racket—I’ll be staying at hotels that realize WiFi is no longer an amenity but a necessity. And I’m not alone.



  • 1.An earlier generation wanted it's MTV... but WiFi isn't generational.. we all want (and need) our WiFi.. Marriott charges up to $1,000 for business users with booths at convention centers they operate and as much as $20 for individual travelers within their rooms. No one is saying they shouldn't charge, although as you point out many also say it should be free; but almost everyone is saying they shouldn't be allowed to BLOCK/JAM WiFi from otherwise legal sources.

    Harry Hawk | December 2014 | United States