FCC still has ton of explaining to do on Wi-Fi blocking rules

WLAN vendors, IT shops unclear on what they can and can’t do in wake of FCC warning on Wi-Fi blocking

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

market, including those that need “G” rated air space, such as libraries and K-12 schools, and argues that they need to be able to apply certain network controls even when it involves unlicensed spectrum. These institutions are making “cries for help” and are “as confused as are the Petitioners [i.e., the hospitality industry],” according to Xirrus, which advocates that de-authentication techniques be allowed.

IT pros like Syracuse University’s Lee Badman say they’re not sure who to believe on what’s allowed in terms of WLAN management and security. He’s looking for the FCC to “answer nuanced questions with nuanced answers.”

One concern: The “FCC SEEMS to have expanded the definition of jamming,” Badman notes, citing the mention of the term in the recent FCC enforcement advisory (The FCC has been aggressive about going after wireless jamming device users and sellers in the past). Badman is slated to speak this week at the WLAN Professionals Conference in Dallas, where the FCC’s Wi-Fi blocking rules are sure to be a subject of discussion.

Answers are also being sought by members of the Certified Wireless Network Professionals group on LinkedIn, where an IT consultant named Omar Vazquez from Puerto Rico kicked off a discussion. Frustrated with the FCC, Vazquez wrote on Google+ that the commission’s “complete disconnection from reality leaves those of us in the WLAN industry scratching our heads as to what exactly they mean and what we could do to comply without significantly hindering our information security efforts in the process.” 

Frank DeMasi, VP of IT at wireless network and infrastructure company Resolute Partners, calls the FCC's approach "a war on service". He continues: "If you own a building or provide a service and you have to allow people to bring their own [Wi-Fi] with no regard to your personal property rights or service rights, I see that as an issue. It seems the FCC is about making [Wi-Fi] available everywhere no matter what."

DeMasi compared the situation to owning a football stadium -- and selling concessions -- and not being allowed to ban ticket holders from bringing in their own beers and hot dogs. That would certainly cut into profits, he said.

Cisco also is seeking answers from the FCC, and filed an extensive 23-page comment with the commission in December. Cisco contends that “unlicensed spectrum generally should be open and available to all who wish to make use of it, but access to unlicensed spectrum resources can and should be balanced against the need to protect networks data and devices from security threats and potentially other limited network management concerns.”

Cisco complains that the FCC’s interpretation of certain network management security as jamming technology “de-values the use of Wi-Fi in enterprise and service provider environments.” A policy statement from the FCC on such matters would make it clearer to network administrators what they’re allowed to do from a security and management perspective in an increasingly BYOD world and would enable vendors to better communicate to customers how their products should be used, according to the Cisco comment. Cisco did not have any further comments based on the recent FCC enforcement warning about Wi-Fi blocking.

Aruba Networks, which filed its comments to the FCC jointly with Ruckus, said it is “disappointed that the FCC did not use this opportunity [related to the hospitality industry petition] to clarify what rules govern Wi-Fi, and under what circumstances using Wi-Fi containment technology is allowed.”

Our attempts so far to get clarification directly from the FCC’s media relations office have been as unsuccessful as of those of vendors and IT pros.

But it’s clear the FCC, which has its hands full with everything from new broadband definitions to net neutrality, is going to have to carve out some time to provide the industry with more information on Wi-Fi blocking before long.

MORE: Georgia Tech's Direct Approach to Boosting WiFi on Campus

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)