Hilton Latest to Be Fined in FCC’s WiFi Probe

The FCC has accused the hotel chain of obstructing its investigation into WiFi blocking, leading the commission to dole out another fine. Also getting scrutinized by the FCC is a contractor for the Baltimore Convention Center.

The $25,000 fine the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just levied on Hilton Hotels isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, considering the hotel chain made $161 million in profits during its most recent quarter—but the reason for that fine is definitely one that the meetings industry will be watching closely.

And it could be just the first step. On Monday the FCC announced it would punish Hilton for apparently obstructing its investigation into whether the hotel chain was using technology to block patrons from using their wireless hot spots at events or elsewhere in Hilton’s facilities. The fine came about after the agency began looking into a consumer complaint last year that a Hilton in Anaheim, California, was blocking guests’ personal hot spots unless they paid a $500 fee to access the hotel’s WiFi networks.

In November 2014 the FCC Enforcement Bureau inquired about the company’s WiFi practices and policies, but Hilton has yet to provide information pertaining to most of its properties, leading to this week’s fine.

“Hotel guests deserve to have their WiFi blocking complaints investigated by the commission,” bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said in a news release [PDF]. “To permit any company to unilaterally redefine the scope of our investigation would undermine the independent search for the truth and the due administration of the law.”

The bureau promised that if Hilton did not start cooperating and stop delaying, it would be subject to even larger fines.

A Contractor’s Huge Fine

While the investigation into Hilton is still in the works, the bureau’s probe of a contractor may offer an idea of what Hilton, or other firms accused of blocking wireless hot spots, could be in for.

M.C. Dean, an electrical and telecommunications systems firm based in Dulles, Virginia, was slammed with a $718,000 fine from the commission this week for blocking vendors’ personal hot spots at the Baltimore Convention Center and charging firms up to $1,095 to access the center’s WiFi network from the exhibitor hall.

The FCC noted that M.C. Dean was using a wireless-blocking mechanism that was so aggressive that it prevented wireless hot spots from being used even outside of the convention center.

“Consumers are tired of being taken advantage of by hotels and convention centers that block their personal WiFi connections,” LeBlanc said in a statement [PDF]. “This disturbing practice must come to an end. It is patently unlawful for any company to maliciously block FCC-approved WiFi connections.”

The FCC’s fine against M.C. Dean was nearly as much as the $750,000 fine levied against Smart City, a firm that works with convention centers all over the country. It also surpasses the $600,000 fine Marriott was hit with over an incident that took place at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

(iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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