On October 3rd, the FCC announced a settlement with Marriott International, Inc. and Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. to resolve an investigation into the hotel operator’s use of a Wi-Fi monitoring and blocking system.  In the investigation, the Commission concluded that an operator cannot use such a system to prevent users from connecting to the Internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks, rather than being limited to the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network, when these users did not pose a threat to the security of the hotel operator or its guests.  This consent decree reminds hotel operators and property owners, as well as other property owners that, while they may control the deployment of fixed radio stations on their property, they may not interfere with communications, including Internet wireless access, that occur on their property using mobile devices.  As part of the consent decree, the hotel operator agreed to pay $600,000 in “civil penalties” and to implement an extensive three-year compliance plan, with quarterly reporting, focusing on the hotel operator’s access point containment features at all of its U.S. properties, including properties owned and/or operated by the company.
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Continuing an aggressive “zero tolerance” enforcement approach regarding signal jammers, the FCC on June 19, 2014 proposed to fine a Chinese-based equipment manufacturer a record $34.9 million for marketing signal jamming equipment.  The fine is based on an undercover investigation undertaken by Enforcement Bureau personnel.  As such, the Commission’s action follows a trend in the use of this investigative technique that began several years prior.  Further, the Commission ordered the company to report additional information to the Commission, including the names of each purchaser of equipment in the United States.  The action underscores the obligation that all manufacturers have to ensure that their products meet applicable FCC limits and restrictions.
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In a departure from its earlier cases involving the unlawful use by individuals of Global Positioning System (“GPS”) jamming devices, the Commission last Friday issued a Notice of Apparent Liability and Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing fines totaling $31,875 to an individual violator. Gary Bojczak told the FCC that he had deployed the jamming device in question in his company-supplied pickup truck to block the GPS-based vehicle tracking system that his employer had installed in the vehicle. The Commission found that Mr. Bojczak had violated at least three sections of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and two FCC rule provisions by transmitting without a license or other instrument of authorization, using equipment that was not authorized, and interfering with authorized communications.


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Two recent releases by the FCC expand its campaign against unlawful cell phone jammer use, which over the past few years has been limited to aggressive enforcement against manufacturers and retailers. On April 9, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission released its first-ever forfeiture actions against operators of cell phone jammers, proposing that each operator be subject to a substantial forfeiture in excess of $125,000. Notably, the Commission found that each operator committed four separate alleged violations for each jamming device it operated: operating a radio transmitting device without proper FCC authorization, using radio frequency devices that do not comply with the Commission’s regulations, importing devices into the United States without first obtaining necessary equipment authorization and complying with related provisions, and interfering with licensed or otherwise authorized operations. Most importantly, the FCC did not provide warnings to the operator before proposing a fine.


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Steve Augustino contributed to this blog post.

In recent years, the FCC has conducted a number of investigations and initiated several enforcement matters against unauthorized marketing and use of cellphone jammers, GPS blockers, and similar equipment. To date, the agency has limited itself mostly to citations without monetary penalties, as well as enforcement advisories at irregular intervals. Eight recent orders, while they don’t break with that pattern, and a new consumer alert and tip line indicate clearly that the Commission is ratcheting up its efforts in this area. It would not be surprising if the Commission soon finds reason to issue substantial forfeitures for illegal operation, especially if facts are present demonstrating that 9-1-1 or other emergency communications have been interfered with or if it finds a large corporation utilizing the unauthorized devices.


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