Tag Archives: FCC

FCC settlement with Wi-Fi router maker a win for open source advocates

“The Commission’s equipment rules strike a careful balance of spurring innovation while protecting against harmful interference,” said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau, in a statement.  “While manufacturers of Wi-Fi routers must ensure reasonable safeguards to protect radio parameters, users are otherwise free to customize their routers and we support TP-Link’s commitment to work with the open-source community and Wi-Fi chipset manufacturers to enable third-party firmware on TP-Link routers.”

The FCC and TP-Link have agreed to a creative settlement that slaps the home and SMB Wi-Fi router maker with a $200K fine for violating wireless emission rules, but also requires the vendor to work with the open source community and chipset makers to allow modification of TP-Link devices.

UPDATE (8/8/16): It reads in part: “The recently executed Consent Decree between TP-Link and the FCC is strictly related to FCC power-level restrictions. While TP-Link products that were shipped/in market met FCC power levels, there was a potential that customers who changed their router settings could unintentionally manipulate power levels outside of mandated FCC regulations. TP-Link issued an Aug. 5 statement about the consent decree on its website and updated its FAQ for open source firmware. Compliant firmware was made available via the company’s website in late 2015, which we encourage customers to download and update their routers.”

The FCC last year angered those who like to install third-party firmware on their Wi-Fi routers when it proposed a rule requiring vendors to design their 5GHz radio devices in such a way that their power levels would not create interference. In fact, the FCC issued a clarification titled “Clearing the Air on Wi-Fi Software Updates” last November in response to complaints, such as from a Save WiFi campaign that popped up.

While the FCC did not force vendors to completely lock down their devices, some vendors – including TP-Link – decided to do so. Others, such as Linksys and Asus said they would work to support third-party firmware, enabling modders to extend the range of their routers or add other capabilities enabled by technologies such as OpenWrt.

In fining TP-Link, the Enforcement Bureau cited the company for marketing certain Wi-Fi routers in the U.S. with a user setting that violated Section 15.15(b) of the FCC’s rules. TP-Link has agreed to nix sales of noncompliant models and build new models in compliance.

But it’s the requirement that TP-Link work with the open source community and chipset makers that stands out in this settlement.

FCC emphasizes that users of authorized wireless gear must obey rules

Just because your wireless equipment is authorized for use by the FCC doesn’t mean you can do whatever the heck you please with it, according to an enforcement advisory issued by the commission just before the long weekend (see the entire warning below).

“Authorized equipment must be used in a manner that complies with federal law and the Commission’s rules,” reads the advisory, in part.

Other examples include using broadcast transmitters to run pirate radio stations and using authorized wireless routers on unauthorized channels at disallowed power levels.

One longtime wireless industry expert, who asked not to be named, says www.gina-shop.com“the examples they give, along with some recent enforcement activities, say it all.  They keep running across people and organizations who are using legitimate functions of wireless devices in ways that are inconsistent with the regs.  Said people and organizations then try to make the claim that if the function works at all, it must be consistent with the regs.”

In other words, the expert says, the Enforcement Bureau is “telling people, in polite terms, ‘Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, so understand the regulations and don’t violate them.'”

 

In fining big hospitality outfits like Marriott and others tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for wrongdoing, the FCC has shown it isn’t messing around. It encourages those who suspect equipment is being misused to make note of it at the FCC’s new Consumer Complaint Data Center.

While the advisory might appear to be stating the obvious, an FCC spokesman elaborates that “the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is taking proactive measures to decrease the number of complaints about the use of authorized equipment in a manner that is not compliant with their authorizations.  Reducing complaint volume helps us handle those that do come in in a timely manner. The issue is an ongoing, steady problem.”

One example of such rule-breaking is Wi-Fi hotspot blocking, in which organizations interfere with others’ rights to use shared spectrum, often in the name of security. As we documented in a Network World report earlier this year based on a Freedom of Information Act request for complaints filed about Wi-Fi blocking, the public continues to find fault with hotels, casinos and other organizations on this front.

 

FCC Enforcement Advisory