As mobile devices have become an increasingly important part of our daily lives and the Internet makes us feel more connected than ever, the ability to connect to Wi-Fi while away from home is a necessity for the average traveler. A variety of devices allow users to set up their own Wi-Fi networks wherever they’d like, providing constant, free access anywhere they go. This may not be the case in some hotel chains soon, however.

“A variety of hotels are appealing to the Federal Communications Commission to allow them to block the signals created by personal Wi-Fi devices “

A variety of hotels, including Marriott International Inc., are appealing to the Federal Communications Commission to allow them to block the signals created by personal Wi-Fi devices so guests would have to use the in-house network inside conference halls and meeting spaces. While the group insists that they want to prevent other networks from being accessible in order to prevent criminals from tricking visitors into using phony networks that look like the hotel Wi-Fi, many opponents are crying foul.

Those who are against the proposal believe the move is being made to force guests to use the hotels’ networks, and in most cases have to pay the steep fees that come along with them.

“If a client arrives at a hotel with her own Mi-Fi device, and the hotel interferes with the client’s connection to that personal hotspot, the hotel can effectively force the client to purchase the hotel’s WiFi services to gain access, even though the client has already paid her mobile operator for personal hotspot capability,” said officials with Microsoft.

Hotels argue they should be able to block Wi-Fi signals to help security

Deciding between public and private airwaves
While the airwaves that have been set aside for use by television companies and cellphone service providers belong to a certain organization and require licenses to operate, the airwaves used by Wi-Fi networks utilize unlicensed frequencies that are meant to be available to anyone, like those that garage door openers and baby monitors use.

A law enforced by the FCC makes it very clear that no one is allowed to “willfully or maliciously” interfere with “any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized” by the government. Therefore, devices like signal jammers are strictly forbidden by the agency. The group of hotels argues that the law preventing the use of jammers should not apply to Wi-Fi because it doesn’t operate on a licensed spectrum. Furthermore, the group argues that a hotel jamming a signal is not maliciously interfering as it is attempting to “monitor and mitigate threats to the security and reliability of its network,” according to an FCC filing.