The FCC is penalizing hotel chains for overcharging customers for Wi-Fi services and blocking guests from using personal hotspot services.
Long ago, travelers checking into high end hotels looked immediately to see what was in their mini-bar. Then came cable TV, workout facilities, or improvements to the late-night room service menu.
Today, travelers want to know if their hotel offers free Wi-Fi.
The answer is yes, or it’s no, or it is somewhere in between.
According to a survey by the online booking service Hotels.com, complimentary Wi-Fi is the amenity more travelers want when booking a stay for pleasure purposes. Sixty percent of respondents said they thought free Wi-Fi should be standard at all hotels.
“While the demand for free Wi-Fi remains, it appears that is starting to become more of an expected offering than a differentiating benefit,’’ said Hotels-com travel expert Taylor Cole in an email sent to CBS MoneyWatch last spring.
But the fact remains that many hotels, especially high end hotel chains, still require a payment to use their location’s Wi-Fi service, and often put an hour’s restriction on the use. This continues despite the Federal Communication Commission’s efforts to put a stop to it.
Why would hotels balk at the idea of offering free Internet service to guests? The reason is because what free Wi-Fi is replacing.
Prior to the widespread availability of Wi-Fi services and network routers everywhere, hotels made money with on-demand movies. Those movies are now available on online services such as Netflix, which hotel guests can watch on their laptops.
At the same time, hotels no longer get the revenue they previously received from phone calls from the standard desk phones that still appear in hotel rooms. Instead, visitors are making their calls via their cellphones, and the hotels are out of revenue again.
Thus, they charge for Wi-Fi use. And they block the use of outside Wi-Fi networks, which the FCC considers to be illegal restriction on trade.
The FCC has charged numerous hotel chains with violations and penalties for blocking customers from using their personal Wi-Fi hotspots. Marriott International was accused by the FCC of such blocking, and charging guests as much as $1,000 per device to use the hotel’s network for conventions and conferences.
Hilton allegedly blocked guests from using personal Wi-Fi services, and the FCC has proposed a $25,000 fine. Hilton claims it did nothing inappropriate at the Hilton Anaheim, where they charged customers $500 to use the hotel’s Wi-Fi system while blocking personal networks from operating.
Several companies that sponsor conventions nationwide have also been fined for convention blocking. Tarde show and convention telecom services provider Smart City Holdings LLC was fined $750,000 for Wi-Fi blocking at several sites, and a $718,000 fine has been assess against systems integration firm M.C. Dean Inc. for blocking at the Baltimore Convention Center.
The hotel chains claim that having numerous guests using their personal hotspots creates a drop in performance for all Wi-Fi services, and forcing hotel guests to use their service makes for better Internet access.
Hotel guests and conventioneers have the legal right to ask if their personal hotspot will be blocked when staying at a hotel or attending a conference.
Some hotel chains offer complimentary Wi-Fi but only to guests who join or have joined their loyalty and rewards programs. But that still is considered illegal by the FCC, which responds to numerous citizen complaints about the high price of the service.
How do guests get around this restrictive behavior? Often, they don’t do anything electronic in their room, choosing instead to visit the closest chain coffee shop or restaurant for their free Wi-Fi service.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.