The war on wifi: Hotels need to stop fighting the futureNews / Technology | OnlineBy Viewpoints | January 12, 2015Share This article was originally published on Despite unprecedented growth in recent years, hotels have forgotten what every Stan Lee fan already knows: with great power comes great responsibility.As we all know now, one of the leaders of the pack – Marriott – has decided to appropriate one of the most important aspects of modern human existence: wifi.NB: This is an analysis by Vikram Singh, author at Words of Vikram.Let’s start with why wifi is such an integral part of guest experience in a hotel.Now, here are your Captain Obvious facts for the day: Wifi’s impact on hotel bookings: 73% (Yes, it’s beating your location.)Guests will not come back if they’ve have a bad wifi experience.Guests don’t only want wifi, but they also want it fast. Yes, they, like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, have a need for speed.Your positive reviews, which have a massive impact on your direct revenue, are directly proportional to the speed of your hotel’s wifi network. So that’s why you have to make sure your wifi is up to your guests’ standards. But what if it’s not, or they just want to use their own?Well, Marriott has a big problem with that.What Marriott didMarriott wants its conference guests to use only their proprietary wifi network when they are on property.Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? It gets better.At the end of 2014, Marriott was fined $600,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for blocking wifi signals at one of its hotels (it's been a rough couple of months: just a few weeks later it also upset some in the corporate travel world).Basically they were preventing guests from using their own wifi enabled devices, instead forcing them to use the expensive and unreliable "official" wifi network installed at their convention center.Anyone who has ever attended a conference knows how annoying and unreliable open hotel convention center wifi networks are. That’s why anyone in the internet trade (myself included) carries a broadband wifi device for two very specific reasons: Speed and reliabilitySecurity Can you imagine giving a product demo or presentation on a hotel’s network? *Shudder*So, how much negative press did this get them? Plenty!The story was covered by the Economist. And CNN. Even the Huffington Post took time off from covering celebrity wardrobe malfunctions to write about it. Here is the FCC’s official take on the investigation.How they did itOne word: jammers (not to be confused or associated with the little known band from Sioux City, known as The Jammers).Wifi jammers are illegal devices that can be bought cheaply online and then used to block wifi signal. Here is the full definition of what the FCC considers a jammer.And here’s a quote from FCC’s head of enforcement, Travis LeBlanc: "It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging customers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own wifi network. This practice puts customers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether."Share this quote Sore loser?So, you’d think Marriott would take this as a (big, flashing) sign of the times; maybe they could work on improving their wifi policies, and maybe their wifi service too?No, that would be too easy, and also the right thing to do (two things which rarely go hand in hand). Instead they recruited the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and have petitioned the FCC asking for a declaratory ruling making wifi jamming legal.Is this real? Yes! You better believe it. Actually, don’t take my word for it… you can just read the official FCC filing.Their official reason for doing this is even more ridiculous.Marriott argues that its hotels should be able to block guest wifi devices in the meeting spaces because their network provides: Increased reliability (LOL*)Better “cybersecurity” (LOL x2**) *Personal Mi-Fi device can kick any convention center wifi's behind.**Cybersecuity is an illusion. If someone really wants something you have stored online, they can get to it no matter how hard you try to prevent it. The world is full of teenagers who hack the Department of Defense because they are bored.Here is a quote from Marriott: "The question at hand is what measures a network operator can take to detect and contain rogue and imposter wifi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat."Share this quote They are basically planning to use “legalized jammers” only in their meeting spaces…but for our own protection, of course. How thoughtful.ConclusionThere is no way this is going to end well for Marriott, or any other big hotel brands that want to jump on the “security and reliability” bandwagon.Marriott, here’s the way out:Step 1. Drop it like it’s hotWithdraw your FCC filing, issue a simple apology, and then issue guidelines on securing wifi connections in your meeting spaces.Step 2. Give your guests free wifiThink bigger than "ancillary revenue". Offer free and fast wifi to everyone, and win hearts and minds.It’s possible that Marriott will ignore my advice and continue on their current path. But this time they are not going up against small individual owners or investment funds they can crush with their legal teams.This time they’re battling Google and Microsoft, who have deeper pockets, more lawyers, and stronger lobbyists than Marriott.What other massive obstacle are they up against? Sheer public will.You can quote me here: "Charging for wifi in any form will soon lead to the quick and decisive decline of any hotel in the court of public opinion."Share this quote Think of it like indoor plumbing…hotels need to roll it into the cost of the room.Nobody is going to pay extra for “security and reliability” while using your toilet inside the room they paid for; what makes you think they’ll want pay extra for W-Fi inside the meeting space they paid for?PleaMarriott: Please get real. Wake up and smell your bulk-purchased, medium-quality coffee. Spending money to petition the US government to change its laws in order to make a few extra nickels is wasteful.Why don’t you spend your money on a worthy cause instead, like marriage equality, medical research, or world hunger?Even if you miraculously win the legal battle against FCC +Google + Microsoft, you have already lost in the court of public opinion. It’s a #FAIL no matter how you look at it.If you’re a hospitality business who’s still charging for wifi: Stop fighting the future. Internet is almost as essential as plumbing to today’s guest.Don’t hold them hostage and expect them to like you, or to ever return. Be gracious. Meet the future with a smile and some good, blazing fast, free wifi.It will do wonders for your revenue in the long term.NB: This is an analysis by Vikram Singh, author at Words of Vikram.NB2:Hotel free wifi image via Shutterstock.