The Internet service controversy that warranted a federal fine against owners of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., did not affect Excellence in Journalism 2014 last month.
Joe Skeel, SPJ’s executive director, says wi-fi access was generally good for the 950 or so members of the Society of Professional Journalists and of the Radio Television Digital News Association who attended the three-day conference, Sept. 4-6.
So, too, was the price SPJ paid for a dedicated network.
“We didn’t hear complaints directly,” Skeel said in an email to Net Worked about attendees accessing the Internet in the conference meeting space and the hotel rooms. “There was some early chatter on social media, but that seemed to subside once we increased our bandwidth.”
On Friday, the resort’s owner, Marriott International Inc., announced it had agreed pay a $600,000 civil penalty ordered by the Federal Communications Commission for its practice of blocking access to personal wireless hotspots created by Gaylord Opryland guests, thus forcing them to pay for access to the resort’s dedicated networks. The complaint that spawned the penalty dates back to March 2013.
The resort also was accused of charging individuals, small businesses and exhibitors up to $1,000 per device for access to those networks.
“It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own wi-fi network,” the FCC said in a statement.
Marriott International responded by saying it defended Gaylord Opryland’s actions as a means of protecting the resort and its customers “from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft” and asked the FCC to clarify its policy.
Besides the civil penalty, Marriott International must cease all wi-fi blocking at Gaylord Opryland and come up with a better way to monitor network security at all of its 4,000-plus properties.
EIJ15 is scheduled for the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Fla.
Skeel said SPJ contracted for free dedicated wi-fi for EIJ14 and the overall cost for that amount of service at Gaylord Opryland was significantly less than at previous EIJ venues. He declined to disclose the contract’s terms.
“Given that SPJ negotiated free wi-fi in guest rooms and meeting space for attendees and exhibitors, I don’t see how this issue came into play for EIJ14,” Skeel said. “If an attendee was blocked from using a personal hotspot, she would have had access to our network — free of charge. I’m not excusing Opryland from the practice. But I don’t think it was an issue for us.”