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

Bob Brown | Feb. 4, 2015
IT shops and wireless LAN product vendors are still unsure as to what constitutes illegal "Wi-Fi blocking":

After being fined by the FCC, Marriott said it would work with the commission to "clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of Wi-Fi devices." But Marriott, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Ryman Hospital Properties withdrew their petition for a declaratory ruling on Jan. 30.

Instead, the hospitality industry will form the American Hotel & Lodging Association Cybersecurity Task Force with industry experts and technology companies "to find and implement the most effective market-based solutions available to tackle growing cyber threats."

Shane Buckley, CEO of WLAN vendor Xirrus, filed comments on Jan. 17 with the FCC in support of the hospitality industry petition, though emphasizes that concerns raised about Wi-Fi management go beyond those organizations in the hospitality industry that provide Wi-Fi services to customers. Xirrus has a big clientele in the education

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."    

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."


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