Big Brother Checks In

28th May 2008 (Last Updated May 28th, 2008 18:30)

How could the UK's proposed bill on internet services affect hotel operators? Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh talks with hotel internet specialists REIO Communications.

Big Brother Checks In

The UK Government recently announced plans to introduce a bill that would require telecommunications companies and internet service providers (ISPs) to keep records of all communications, including telephone calls, text messages, and emails, transmitted in the UK for 12 months. The data, stored on a central government database, would be used to counter terrorism and crime, with access controlled by the courts.

The changes would make it compulsory for companies to monitor and keep logs of customer usage, however, those with shady intentions could circumvent the system by piggy-backing unsecure wireless networks and using encryption and pay-as-you-go phones.

“It will be compulsory for companies to monitor and keep logs of customer usage.”

With hotels increasingly acting like internet service providers to guests, conference attendees and members of the public, the legislation could have serious implications for the hospitality industry.

RIEO Communications specialises in the development and installation of high-speed internet access (HSIA) for the hospitality industry.

Sales and marketing director Jim Stewart talked Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh through the ins and outs of wireless security and general management concerns of hotel internet connections.

Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh: Increasing numbers of business and leisure travellers see Wi-Fi Internet access as an absolute must. Hotels servicing business customers are also required to provide Wi-Fi for conferences and meeting rooms.

Guest access may be managed using room numbers and surnames to log in but how can hotels provide Wi-Fi access to large numbers of conference delegates and in public without both compromising their own and their users’ security?

Jim Stewart: Guests can proactively protect themselves from potential threats by having appropriate security settings, VPN (virtual private network) and firewall measures selected and saved on their laptop. Security access codes are simple and can be easily monitored, and there are endless security measures built into networks, like RIEO’s high-speed access solution that can provide a resilient barrier to security breaches. Installing such a solution allows the hotel to set up the necessary security / access controls to prevent any access from unauthorised users.

Hotels should also insist on a different broadband provision from their ISP for their guest services network, thus keeping the networks separate. Those that choose to utilise the same broadband provision can easily firewall or virtual LAN (VLAN – a broadcast domain that virtually hosts different net connections) the networks preventing unauthorised access to the hotel’s back-office applications. In providing a robust, reliable and secure guest network, the need to provide access to any other network is therefore not required.

ECM: As hotels begin to act like internet service providers, how do laws surrounding the logging of all traffic affect them?

JS: A hotel’s business is based on its service offering and for looking after its guests: many hoteliers will not be fully aware of the fact that they could hypothetically be considered as an ISP and therefore will need to take advice on how to deal with this. Forging close relationships with their HSIA and ISP providers will address any concerns.

Hotels using reliable ISPs will be advised on what measures they will be required to take should logging traffic become law. The ISPs are already fully conversant with all the legislation required for them to operate and will be more than ready to share any change in the law with their customers.

ECM: Could hotels be held responsible for objectionable material viewed by guests using their connection and how can a hotel protect itself from such a scenario?

JS: Presenting a disclaimer prior to any authentication or connection to the web via the hotel’s high-speed internet service will ensure that the user retains responsibility.

ECM: If questions were raised about the websites viewed on a hotel server, how would the hotel track the activity to a particular guest?

JS: Tracking features within the HSIA product, the property management system (PMS), and communication between the ISPs will identify the activity of a particular guest.

ECM: What implications would this raise concerning guest privacy and the storage of personal data?

JS: I presume this will depend on the legislation!

HIGHER SPEED = HIGHER CHARGES?

ECM: With the increasing popularity of on demand television services and movie downloads, how can hotels ensure guests receive the speed of service they are paying for?

JS: Hotels need to ensure that the company that they are using is able to guarantee specific download speeds to meet their customer requirements. The chosen solution should have the ability to allocate a specific bandwidth to a user to enable them to efficiently and cost-effectively download the movie. Hotels should clearly communicate what type of service offering they are providing so that the guest is clear about what is being offered and the cost involved.

ECM: Is it possible for hotels to offer different speeds at different prices and how popular might such a move be with hotels and guests?

“Stored data would be used to counter terrorism and crime, with access controlled by the courts.”

JS: With the increase of bandwidth-hungry applications the hotels should be able to offer low bandwidth or give guests the option of using a higher bandwidth with higher charges for use with applications such as iPlayer, iTunes, Slingbox etc.

Hotels may choose to absorb the cost of email and surfing on low bandwidth applications like MSN but charge a premium for the bandwidth-hungry applications mentioned above. Guests are becoming savvier as to what option they require and what applications they need a higher bandwidth for.

ECM: How would it work from a technological standpoint?

JS: The solution will be able to identify the request from the user to choose the low / high-bandwidth line and route the traffic accordingly.

The guest should be given simple-to-use choices for the service they require: this can be communicated by the guest user interface (GUI) either on the TV screen or laptop.