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FCC Commissioner says Marriott shouldn't be able to block your Wi-Fi hotspot

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You should be able to use your own Wi-Fi hotspot at a hotel without the hotel trying to block you, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says. Speaking this morning at the State of the Net conference, Rosenworcel said that she'd like the FCC to quickly dismiss a petition from Marriott asking that the commission give it an expanded ability to "manage" its Wi-Fi network, effectively allowing it to block personal hotspots under the guise of network security. "There are other ways to address legitimate network security concerns, but this is a bad idea," Rosenworcel said.

"This is a bad idea."

Rosenworcel spoke at length about the benefits of Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum, arguing in favor of the FCC creating more of it. Protecting existing Wi-Fi from "willful interference," she said, is also a key part of expanding it. Though interference is already illegal, proposals like Marriott's would undermine those protections and limit what consumers can do with Wi-Fi, which is meant to be accessible to everyone. "Let's not let this petition linger or create any uncertainty," Rosenworcel said. "I hope my colleagues at the FCC will work with me to help dismiss it without delay."

Aside from enforcing existing protections and dismissing proposals like Marriott's, Rosenworcel also said that she'd like to see Congress take a better view of creating unlicensed spectrum. Because the Congressional Budget Office views unlicensed spectrum — like what Wi-Fi uses — as valueless, legislation doesn't look as good when it directs the FCC to create it. She argues that this is fallacious thinking, saying that unlicensed spectrum contributes to $140 billion worth of economic activity. Instead, Rosenworcel would like to see Congress begin to factor in the value of unlicensed spectrum, thus giving it an incentive to help create more of it.

"We live in a wireless world built on constant connectivity," Rosenworcel said. "Having more ways to connect in more places makes us stronger and will help grow our economy."

Despite today's hot subject being net neutrality, Rosenworecel declined to speak on it during her remarks, joking, "I suspect you'll agree with me that this issue does not lack for attention."

Update, 5:45PM ET: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler spoke on the issue later in the day, agreeing that Marriott's proposal is contrary to the commission's goals for Wi-Fi. Here's his entire statement:

"Consumers must get what they pay for. The Communications Act prohibits anyone from willfully or maliciously interfering with authorized radio communications, including Wi-Fi. Marriott’s request seeking the FCC’s blessing to block guests’ use of non-Marriott networks is contrary to this basic principle. Protecting consumers from this kind of interference is a priority area for the FCC Enforcement Bureau. The Enforcement Bureau recently imposed a $600,000 fine on Marriott for this kind of conduct, and the FCC will continue to enforce the Communications Act if others act similarly."