Was the Marriott's $600k fine from the FCC fair?

The Marriott don't think so, they're maintaining that they were completely justified in blocking their guest's personal hotspot devices in order to ensure that....

....when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft....

What is a 'rogue' wireless hotspot? In this case it is any device that creates a private WiFi network within the Marriott's venue that the venue themselves did not set up and cannot manage.

How did the Marriott's staff protect against these rogue devices? They used a feature common to enterprise WiFi systems that detects and neutralises these rogues by spoofing the WiFi network name and sending disassocition packets. Basically, performing an aggressive attack on that device.

In a secure network environment like say a bank, school or hospital, where you absolutely don't want any WiFi devices providing unauthorised connections to your secure network this 'Rogue AP Detection' functionality is really important. You don't want an employee hanging a WiFi router off the end of an Ethernet cable which then allows any malicious attacker access to your private data.

Why did the FCC give the Marriott such a public dressing down then?

Because the security argument, which Marriott maintain, doesn't stand up in this case. The MiFi devices they were blocking weren't hardwired into marriott's own cabled network, they are wireless only, WiFi for the owner's phones & tablets, 3G/4G for the Internet connection.

However, their argument about maintaining the quality of service for the in house WiFi network does have merit. We all know that delivering a reliable, fast WiFi service for an event with many hundreds or thousands of people in one place is tough because it mostly doesn't work.

This would be a good time to read my '9 reasons why the WiFi sucks at your event' post to find out why that's the case. 

Now, because we've all had more bad experiences with WiFi at events than good ones we have carry a backup, the trusty mobile hotspot. They can be a real lifesaver and are popular with those of us who are always on the road.

Putting my event WiFi manager hat on for a second I can say with 100% conviction that I also absolutely detest the things. press conferences and product launches are the worst environments because every photographer and live blogger has one, at least one in fact. You could have built a kickass WiFi infrastructure only to find dozens of these things clogging up your pristine airspace like a swarm of drones.

How do you stop people wanting to use them.

Simple answer. Build a great WiFi service, make it easy to use and good value. People have personal hotspots for two reasons; 1. Because more often than not the conference WiFi sucks and 2. Because they want to avoid price gouging.

Take those reasons away and the devices will disappear as well and nobody needs to feel ripped off or as if their rights are being impinged upon and we can keep government out of it. There's no reason it should have gone that far.