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Google vs. Marriott in WiFi war

Marriott apparently hates it when you turn your mobile device into a WiFi hotspot in one of their hotel rooms. The international hotel chain, along with the American Hospitality & Lodging Association have petitioned the FCC to allow them to block your WiFi signal. Either use theirs, which can come with a fee up to about $20 per day and is often, how can we put this, less than expected, or hike down to the Starbucks on the corner.

According to the petition, Marriott is arguing that guests could use personal internet connections to launch attacks against the hotel WiFi or threaten the privacy of other guests. Of course, that argument is as thin as it gets. Helen Keller could see through that nonsense.

As absurd as their argument is, the gambit may have worked if Marriott hadn’t gotten cute about it, but now the hotel and the lobby’s combined efforts have turned into a PR nightmare and, worse, a war with an opponent who has one of the deepest pockets on the planet. Actually, make that two.

Both Google and Microsoft have aligned themselves against the hotels in this case. Microsoft filed an opposition to the FCC, saying, in part, that customers have already paid for WiFi access, so Marriott is attempting to forcibly limit services customers have already paid for. Google’s argument is similar, but goes further, accusing Marriott of trying to undermine the public interest.

The case is still pending, so there’s no result to report…but you can take one guess which side the vast majority of the public have lined up on. With the pervasiveness of Internet use and the expectation of WiFi becoming as commonplace as in-room phones, Marriott has a decision to make. Is the cash they may lose to hotspots worth the bath they are going to take in the world of public opinion? Not to mention the fact that they are setting themselves up for a major push from a competitor who could view this opportunity as the proverbial slow pitch right over the plate.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations and founder of the Ronn Torossian Foundation. Author of ‘For Immediate Release’, a best selling Public Relations book.

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