Hey U.S. FCC, don’t lock down our Wi-Fi routers!

“In March of 2014, the FCC updated its requirements for U-NII devices operating on the 5 Ghz bandwidth — a designation that covers a wide range of Wi-Fi devices and routers,” Kyle Wiens writes for Wired. “It wasn’t until last month that Wi-Fi hobbyists pointed out some regulatory language that might affect the open source community: ‘Manufacturers must implement security features in any digitally modulated devices capable of operating in any of the U-NII bands, so that third parties are not able to reprogram the device to operate outside the parameters for which the device was certified.'”

“On its own, the language isn’t a deliberate war on modding,” Wiens writes. “‘In this particular case, this is about safety,’ said William Lumpkins, Sr. Member IEEE, IEEE Sensors Council/SMC Standards Chair. Most modern equipment—from laptops to planes—emits radio frequencies (RF). And the FCC carefully orchestrates traffic to ensure signals don’t get tangled up… RF modding could also interfere with ‘medical devices like pacemakers, optical implants, diabetic insulin regulators, and a slew of other medical devices,’ Lumpkins said. ‘An insidious person could also turn a radio into a white noise generator and not allow anyone to use Wi-Fi/Bluetooth within a 1500 foot radius, which is what a few well-intentioned theater owners tried last year.'”

“What is unusual, Lumpkins added, is for the FCC to call out—by name—specific software. But that’s exactly what the FCC did,” Wiens writes. “And that’s a big red flag: DD-WRT, like OpenWRT, is a free, Linux-based firmware for wireless routers and access points. The two are widely used within the tinkering community—and they are important… ‘The real worry is that major chip manufacturers will respond by saying ‘the easiest thing for us to do is lock down all the middleware rather than worry about where to draw the line.’ That would potentially kill a lot of innovation and valuable uses,’ wireless policy guru Harold Feld told TechDirt… The FCC is currently asking for feedback on the NPRM before the rules become law—so now is the time to pipe up. ”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: This seems to be a case of poorly worded guidelines that first need to be cleaned up and rewritten before they become regulations.


      1. And the reporter munged the language, too.
        It’s the 5 GHz or 60 mm band; it’s not bandwidth. ‘Bandwidth’ is the size frequency slot needed by the modulated signal, whereas ‘band’ is where the carrier frequency lives.

        What the FCC is concerned about is third-party modding a device to transmit in another band, for instance the L5 GPS used by commercial aircraft is near the 1.2 GHz band, gov satellites are near 2 Ghz, and critical radio-navigation is around 5.8 Ghz. The Doppler radar airports use is around 5.6 GHz. Interference with these *is* a big deal.

        1. I read through the FCC’s intentions. I understand what the open source firmware wants to enable. It comes down to either modifying the open source firmware to stay within legal parameters or blocking out open source firmware that refuses to stay within legal parameters. It’s not about blocking open source firmware per se.

          IOW: The FCC’s goal makes sense. Adjusting to it, either in hardware and/or firmware, will take time and effort.

          If TechnoGeeks are determined to screw around with illegal bandwidths, they’ll have to find or make other toys.

    1. Quote:
      “if flashable routers are outlawed, only outlaws with have flashable routers….”

      I claim this quote as mine

      and by extension, only outlaws can access outlaw routers,
      but only outlaws would have access to the protection for their routers, boy it gets complicated

      especially when you include the NSA which may be the outlaw we should be worried about

      wait. maybe the millions that got routers before this inane idea have a chance….
      nah, NSA is already there

  1. This issue has been in the ChatterSphere for over a month. The FCC has already spoken about the situation and promise they are not attempting to kill off open source firmware on routers. We’ll have to see how this plays out. But the general message is that its alarmist to think of the FCC locking out open source firmware.

    1. More on the subject from Ars Technica:

      FCC: Open source router software is still legal—under certain conditions

      Locking out OpenWRT and DD-WRT is the easiest way to comply with new FCC rules.

      That guidance specifically requires manufacturers to prevent user modifications that cause radios to operate outside their licensed RF (radio frequency) parameters. The goal is to prevent interference with other systems by making sure devices only work within their allowed frequencies, types of modulation, and power levels. The FCC said its actions are meant to address “interference with FAA Doppler weather radar systems caused by modified devices” and other potential interference problems.

      Manufacturers could choose to achieve compliance by simply locking out any kind of third-party firmware, the FCC acknowledged.
      . . . .
      The FCC told Ars that so far, no vendors have interpreted the guidance as a ban on third-party firmware.

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