The Moscow Marriott

As the year 2014 takes its last breath, two stories caught my eye. The first from The New York Times explored how the Internet can still be a powerful tool to activate civil disobedience even with draconian government censorship stifling free speech. The second from Boing Boing (and elsewhere) exposed how the Marriott Corporation is petitioning the FCC to allow it to shut down personal Internet hotspots (in favor of its own premium wi-fi).

Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose alleged accumulated wealth of $40bn would make him Europe’s richest man. Photograph: Maxim Marmur/AP

I’m not equating Vladimir Putin with Bill Marriott, but one can’t help but notice certain similarities between the two. In her Times story titled “Can the Internet defeat Putin?” Emily Parker wrote:

“Now, Russian authorities have greater powers to block sites, allegedly in an attempt to protect children from harmful content. Popular bloggers are required to register with the government. Facebook and Twitter could be blocked entirely if they refuse to comply with a new law that requires them to keep data on their Russian users on local servers. Mr. Putin also passed a law to criminalize street protests.”

Of course, the guy lounging by the Marriott Hotel pool, tablet in hand connected to the Internet via his cellular network, has no intention of fomenting an uprising against hotel management. In his Boing Boing piece titled “Marriott plans to block personal wifi hotspots,” Glenn Fleishman wrote:

“The hotel chain and some others have a petition before the FCC to amend or clarify the rules that cover interference for unlicensed spectrum bands. They hope to gain the right to use network-management tools to quash Wi-Fi networks on their premises that they don’t approve of. In its view, this is necessary to ensure customer security, and to protect children.”

Interestingly, both institutions cited the “protection of children” as an impetus for their efforts to restrict Internet access on their respective lands. Also, both stand to profit by stifling access to the Internet. Marriott can “gouge” its guests with $15-a-day fees, while Mr. Putin and his crony capitalist inner circle can further cement their power to personally rake in millions. Today’s New York Times has a front page piece outlining the insidious methods Mr. Putin uses to silence those seeking to thwart his unbridled ambitions.

Bill Marriott 280x425
Bill Marriott, Jr. (via Forbes)

Mr. Marriott’s a capitalist worth an estimated $3.2 billion, while the other is a crony capitalist worth an estimated $40 billion. Could the latter take a page from the former by offering free wi-fi in certain properties? Maybe the Russian activists should plan their next meeting at the Moscow Marriott, which purports to offer “broadband Internet access and wireless connection in all meeting rooms.” How’s this, Marriott? We’ll pay the fee, if you can protect our privacy.