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FCC Fines Hotel Wi-Fi Provider for Blocking Personal Hotspots

No more Mr. Nice FCC.
August 18, 2015, 4:00pm

The Federal Communications Commission has just slapped a $750,000 fine on Wi-Fi provider that routinely blocked people in hotels and convention centers across the US from setting up their own mobile hotspots.

The company, Smart City, provided Wi-Fi services to hotels and convention centers in cities Columbus, Ohio, and Phoenix, Arizona, and charged $80 per day for the privilege of connecting to the network. If the company detected a third-party Wi-Fi network, such as the kind broadcast by mobile hotspots and many smartphones (data plan permitting), it would use specialized equipment to block the third-party Wi-Fi signals in an effort to move these people to its own network. Not nice, no.

The FCC, which was first alerted to the issue in June 2014, was not amused, and said today that it was putting "on notice" any company that unlawfully blocks consumers' Wi-Fi.

In a statement provided to Motherboard, Smart City President Mark Haley said the company "has always acted in good faith, and [had] no prior notice that the FCC considered the use of this standardized, 'available-out-of-the-box' technology to be a violation of its rules," and that it immediately stopped using the technology once contacted by the FCC. The company also stressed that fewer than "one percent of all devices" were blocked using the technology.

This isn't the first time the FCC fined a company for blocking Wi-Fi, with the regulator making headlines in late 2014 after it fined the Marriott hotel chain $600,000 for similar blocking guests' personal Wi-Fi networks.

Update 8/18: This post has been updated to include a statement from Smart City.