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Wireless Networking Government Networking The Internet

FCC Prohibits Blocking of Personal Wi-Fi Hotspots 129

alphadogg writes: The FCC on Tuesday warned that it will no longer tolerate hotels, convention centers or others intentionally interfering with personal Wi-Fi hotspots. This issue grabbed headlines last fall when Marriott International was fined $600,000 for blocking customer Wi-Fi hotspots, presumably to encourage the guests to pay for pricey Internet access from the hotel.
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FCC Prohibits Blocking of Personal Wi-Fi Hotspots

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    So I guess this means the government will pursue the tech companies who enable this illegal practice as vigorously as torrent sites that enable copyright infringement?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      If those tech companies create technology that is primarily used for this illegal activity then yeah, the government probably would. On the other hand, if the technology has a legitimate use that out-weighs the illegal activities it can enable then no, of course not. Why do you think it's the torrent sites that enable copyright infringement that get targeted and shutdown (for a few days a least before finding a new host) and not the developers and maintainers of the torrent software itself. One of those gr
    • They have, IIRC, gone after manufacturers of cellphone jammers in the past, so it wouldn't surprise me.
    • Wait, you mean that the FCC actually came down on the side of the consumers and against a very minor special interest? Wow, just WOW! In other news, the FTC and the FCC are likely going to finally allow the acquisition of Time Warner by Comcast in the next few months. For the customers this will be a really great thing since it will allow them to be fleeced more efficiently and have their service issues better ignored. It will also allow the Cable companies to better lobby the FCC and the Congress to pass
  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TJ_Phazerhacki ( 520002 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2015 @01:14AM (#48921101) Journal
    Can they prevent wireless companies from blocking hotspots next?
    • Less likely. The FCC is pretty clearly within their powers in saying that you aren't allowed to intentionally interfere with other people's Part 15 devices by using your own to generate disruptive RF.

      There is no obvious coverage for forbidding the sale of devices having a Part 15 radio component; but lacking a software configuration for providing network access to other devices with that device. They might be able to shove it into the conditions of a spectrum auction, and make it binding on the buyer; bu
      • by Agripa ( 139780 )

        The FCC is pretty clearly within their powers in saying that you aren't allowed to intentionally interfere with other people's Part 15 devices by using your own to generate disruptive RF.

        This does not preclude occupying the same band in such a manner that the targeted WiFi devices become useless. WISPs have been playing this game with larger operators deploying Canopy or other devices which can be used to effectively jam an entire band. They earned schadenfreude when Ubiquiti WiMax devices did the same ba

  • They outlawed Faraday cages?

    • Re:Damn! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2015 @01:28AM (#48921171)

      Faraday cages don't jam signals. They insulate the inside from the outside.

      • Re: Damn! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It would be legal to build a faridaycage around your hotel.
        Illegal is transmitters that jam a band. They would need to be FCC approved. And the FCC isn't approving them.

      • The rule does include blocking... "In addition, we reiterate that Federal law prohibits the operation, marketing, or sale of any type of jamming equipment..."

        • Jamming equipment actively interferes.

          RF shielding just blocks the signal passively.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            The method is not specified in the rule. It just says blocking and disruption are prohibited.

        • The person that modded that down does not know the bureaucrat. They could make it that absurd if enough money is at stake.

          • Then you would need to charge every plaster who used iron cored mesh when they rendered a house.

            And seriously think about what you are saying. If they turned their building into a faraday cage then everything inside the building would still be able to talk to each other. It's not like they are saying "please sir, will you please place your phone inside this copper ball please" and cutting your phone off.

            If a hotel turned itself into a faraday cage everyone's mobile phone wouldn't be working either and the

            • That's pretty trivial and already occurs.

              The convention center effectively gets no signal due to the way it was constructed anyway and so the major brands have repeaters inside the hotel while the minor brand phone's don't work.

              DFW Hyatt is a good example of this. If you are not on Verizon- good luck using your phone inside the convention center downstairs.

    • They outlawed Faraday cages?

      No, the jamming in this case is active, not passive. Passive blocking would have blocked cell phone calls as well (which would put Marriott out of business if they did that, it's not like Marriott is operating zen retreats for its customers). I suppose the wording in the US law could be interpreted to mean that intentional passive blocking isn't allowed either, but this hasn't been tested in court yet. And again, this kind of blocking is not what we're talking about with Marriott International.

      Faraday cages

      • Well, I'm just saying the rule does distinguish blocking and disrupting. An over zealous bureaucrat can easily run with it until specific methods are stipulated.

        Copper foil would be more effective than a mesh full of holes, and it can be made very thin. Aluminum might also work, anything that can run the signal to ground.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      A Faraday cage jams a signal like a building jams the weather.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The FCC has actually been showing some balls lately, I like it. Keep it up, Wheeler!

  • by thogard ( 43403 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2015 @01:29AM (#48921177) Homepage

    You have to have a free pool to get a 5 star rating. Too bad the ratings companies around the world haven't required decent and free Wi-Fi. Major hotel chains would change their offers in a hurry when they are down rated to a 4 star hotel.

    • by CRC'99 ( 96526 )

      You have to have a free pool to get a 5 star rating. Too bad the ratings companies around the world haven't required decent and free Wi-Fi. Major hotel chains would change their offers in a hurry when they are down rated to a 4 star hotel.

      And wait until they start snooping everyones traffic and data mining it... for profit - I mean, reliability monitoring...

      On another note, I see you're looking at hotel bookings with another hotel chain at your next destination.........

      • by Agripa ( 139780 )

        And wait until they start snooping everyones traffic and data mining it... for profit - I mean, reliability monitoring...

        This is the part I found interesting about Marriott position. They rationalized jamming foreign WiFi networks based on the security of their customers but why would I trust Marriott's network anymore than any other foreign network?

    • free Wi-Fi with a forced 25-30 a day resort fee

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      You have to have a free pool to get a 5 star rating. Too bad the ratings companies around the world haven't required decent and free Wi-Fi. Major hotel chains would change their offers in a hurry when they are down rated to a 4 star hotel.

      Then they give you free wifi with a paid upgrade.

      I stayed at a hotel with free wifi. The "free" part was true, it was free, for 4 devices at 1Mbps each. Yes, 1Mbps.

      Oh, they were more than happy to sell you different rate plans - perhaps you want 5Mbps for $20/day? Or perh

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      It will come. The thing is that those hotels depend heavily on corporate customers and they do not care as the company pays the bill.

      To me what they charge is almost theft. Yes, there is some infrastructure ti be build, but nothing special. And then there is the cost of the line. Make that 500 EUR per month (On the high side)
      Now for a small hotel of say 100 rooms, that is 5 EUR per room for a month. Say 50% occupation and we get to 30 cents per day.
      Raise your price with 50 cents per room and you are making

  • 802.11w (Score:2, Redundant)

    by iamacat ( 583406 )

    FCC will not stop a moron staying in one of hotel rooms (or say appartments) sending disconnect packets to everyone around them. The only solution is to secure your network from trivial sabotage and applicable standards are readily available. Why waste time policing the hotel itself when every one of it's guests can do the same thing and worse?

  • by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2015 @01:57AM (#48921319) Homepage Journal

    The rules for access to the frequency spectrum used by WiFi require that the device has a mechanism to prevent it interfering with other users of the channel. That is why frequency hopping, spread spectrum and exponential backoff algorithms are all parts of devices permitted to be used in these bands. The devices are not licensed to access the band, they are certified to comply with the rules to access the band.

    A device specifically intended to prevent someone else accessing the band is a clear violation of this law. There was no time since WiFi existed that this was remotely legal.

    People should be in jail.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, people SHOULD be in jail. It's nice that the FCC is finally standing up to corporations, but the fact is that if I did this behavior myself for whatever purpose I could and very likely would be arrested.

      We need to give these corporate creeps equal treatment under the law, right?

    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      There is no such rule. The things you mentioned are all in place to get around interference caused by other devices, not to prevent interfering. Anyone can legally make a device that uses those frequencies, and there is no requirement at all that they do what you said.

      • You're incorrect. [gpo.gov] Part 15 devices are absolutely required to not cause interference. From the link, emphasis mine:

        (a) Persons operating intentional or unintentional radiators shall not be deemed to have any vested or recognizable right to continued use of any given frequency by virtue of prior registration or certification of equipment, or, for power line carrier systems, on the basis of prior notification of use pursuant to 90.35(g) of this chapter.
        (b) Operation of an intentional, unintentional, or incidental radiator is subject to the conditions that no harmful interference is caused and that interference must be accepted that may be caused by the operation of an authorized radio station, by another intentional or unintentional radiator, by industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) equipment, or by an incidental radiator.
        (c) The operator of a radio frequency device shall be required to cease operating the device upon notification by a Commission representative that the device is causing harmful interference. Operation shall not resume until the condition causing the harmful interference has been corrected.

        • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

          That does not mean what you think it does. Those are not technical rules, those are rules of operation. And what they mean is this:

          If someone complains about your unlicensed device interfering, you have to stop using the device, and you, as the operator of an unlicensed device can not complain.

          In other words, you can not interfere with a licensed operator, but you are in no way protected from anyone, licensed or not, interfering with your device.

          Other than radiated power, there are no technical restrictio

          • I understand Part 15 (as well as Part 97, since I'm licensed under those rules). The mechanisms mentioned in the GP _do_ exist in law for 5GHz U-NII (read WiFi) systems. Please refer to Title 47 Part 15, Subpart E [ecfr.gov], particularly 15.407(h)(1) and (2) and also 15.37(e).

            Also, (if I read it correctly) 15.37(h) forbids the marketing or sale of devices that use any digital modulation technique other than Spread Spectrum operating in the 5725-5850 MHz bands starting on June 2, 2016.

            The definition of "digital modula

            • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

              Well, since you are licensed under those rules you should understand that the purpose of those rules is to not cause interference with weather and military radar systems, and not to prevent interference with other wifi devices. So the point still stands - you can not interfere with licensed services, and nobody cares if you are interfered with.

  • Incidentally... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2015 @02:39AM (#48921447) Journal
    What I find most baffling about the whole affair is how something that one would ordinarily think of as a fairly overtly malicious exploit, spoofing the appropriate management frames to break a network you don't have authenticated access to the configuration interface for, became a 'respectable' tool for 'management', even included out of the box in fancy commercial products from vendors with risk averse legal teams and so on.

    This seems like the place where somebody who has been dealing with enterprise wireless gear long enough to have observed the change might be found. Did this 'feature' cross over from what was initially a proof of concept by a security researcher? Was it recognized as a possibility before the standards had even been hammered out and was available from day one? Do we know what vendor adopted it first? Were there any who specifically didn't offer it for legal, rather than technical, reasons?

    At this point, it is certainly the case that at least some wireless management consoles adopt a very...possessive...tone, detecting 'rogue' APs, despite those APs being no more or less legitimate than any others, in terms of spectrum use, and offering 'containment' or various similarly clinical euphemisms for dealing with them. How, historically, did it come to be that this nasty DoS trick went all legitimate, even as generalized hacker hysteria can get you a stiff dose of CFAA charges for almost anything that involves a CLI and confuses the DA?

    I'd love to have my hands on all the versions of various vendors' wireless management and administration packages, to see how this feature evolved over time. I can certainly see its appeal; but I find it hard to believe that nobody had serious doubts about its legality from time to time.
    • Maybe Anon can hack into Marriott's corporate network and find the email trail of just which lawyer gave this the go-ahead.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Companies can not be charged for hacking:
      - See this company that makes a DoS device.
      - See SONY rootkit drm.
      - See companies that are poisoning P2P networks.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Companies cannot, but the chairman and/or board of directors certainly can.

        • No. They cannot. Only people such as you and I can be charged with a crime. Rich people only need to have one of their minions write and publish an apology.
          • Actually, they write and publish something that resembles an apology in some ways (at least in the US). A real apology acknowledges wrong action (deliberate or accidental) and regret for the action. The usual corporate version of an apology says the corp had good reason to do what it did, and is sorry that anybody had a problem with it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Most of the systems don't do TCP-reset style attacks to disrupt service, they do hundreds or thousands of MAC level connects to the device overwhelming them. Most of these devices cannot actively talk to more than a handful of people, so it's trivial to swamp them. Still evil, but the attack is different than you imagine...

  • The government doesn't want anything to stand in the way of people taking the internet for granted or reducing their usage due to expense. Otherwise the surveillance network doesn't work as well. Also, jammers have a tendency to interfere with their IMSI catchers. Can't have that now, can we?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 28, 2015 @03:38AM (#48921637)

    If I jammed the hotels WiFi it'd be a criminal (more likely 'terrorist') attack. Should I be surprised there isn't a criminal investigation into hotels doing this to it's own customers?

  • $600,000 is cheap considering they made millions blocking private Wi-Fi from one of their main hotels which was a magnet for business. Oh and the word "presumably" should not of been used. They blocked it to make money plain and simple. They can't use any type of excuse 1. They blocked it 2. They got caught next and last... 3. They asked the FCC for permission to block. Maybe they thought the FCC would feel sorry for them who knows. I don't feel sorry for them, and their fine would of been no less than
  • For weight and space reasons I travel with only my wifi-only tablet. Generally that works well for me.

    Every now and then I encounter a hotel with only wired access provided in rooms. (Often they have wifi in public areas.) Is there an answer to using the wifi-only device in such a circumstance. For sake of argument, let's assume I am an international traveller whose cellphone never works in the countries I visit. (True) That means the hotspot method mentioned will not work.
    • For weight and space reasons I travel with only my wifi-only tablet. Generally that works well for me.

      Every now and then I encounter a hotel with only wired access provided in rooms. (Often they have wifi in public areas.) Is there an answer to using the wifi-only device in such a circumstance. For sake of argument, let's assume I am an international traveller whose cellphone never works in the countries I visit. (True) That means the hotspot method mentioned will not work.

      There are numerous mobile wifi router/bridges which can plug into a wired network and make ot available over wifi, either as a bridged or routed connection. At home they can also be used as a wifi range extender.

      For example

      http://www.tp-link.com/en/prod... [tp-link.com]

    • These days it's the opposite for me. Many hotels I stay in have removed their wired connections, and wireless is the only option.
    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      Every now and then I encounter a hotel with only wired access provided in rooms. (Often they have wifi in public areas.) Is there an answer to using the wifi-only device in such a circumstance.

      A WiFi to wired ethernet bridge will solve this handily. Ubiquiti devices can be configured this way.

  • What the Hotels actually are losing are orders for movies. They set pricing on their wifi to replace the overpriced movie orders they no longer get from in-room orders. Once again, porn industry drives internet pricing.
    • Rather then try to make up the difference from loss of in-room movie sales by gouging WiFi, maybe hotels should simply ban people from bringing their own pr0n into the hotel.

      Think of how well that would work out.
  • Obviously didn't write Tom Wheeler a big enough check.

  • My only question is what if the hotel is giving free wi-fi to guests, and then those guests are re-offering that bandwidth freely for people who didn't pay? That doesn't seem fair either, sort of like a fast food restaurant offering free refills, and then some asshole continuously refilling his large beverage to pour into other people's cups so they don't buy drinks at all.

    I don't know if there's a tech that could tell when packets are coming from X machine, or coming form sources 'beyond' that machine, bu

    • OMG! You're right! The sky would fall.

      Also imagine what would happen if someone were also giving away their free electricity! Or water from the expensive to construct indoor plumbing!

      And about that jerk who refills other people's cups with a beverage! Horrors! I'm sure that next to nothing cost colored sugar water is going to break the hotel -- because the hotel charges an artificially high price for it!

      Does it really matter? Some people will always be pricks. But not most people.
      • Well, we know which asshole would be standing there pouring drinks now, don't we?
        Seriously, if a business gives you unlimited (something), you wouldn't feel the teensiest bit guilty then giving it away, costing them possible business?

        Pretty clearly an incentive for business to never give people like you things like free refills. Congrats - you live in Europe.

        • I would feel guilty about giving it away and taking advantage of their generous 'unlimited' offer. My point is that there are people who would abuse it. There always have been. Always will be. But that is not a reason to gouge WiFi prices or prevent customers providing their own WiFi devices.
          • (shurg) it's a matter of definition.
            Here in the US, free wifi is pretty much as common as free refills. If you're GIVING away wifi - even to non guests - it seems stupid to argue over it.
            OTOH, in Europe, it seems that every bloody hotel and airport feels that you should pay $10 / day or somesuch for the ability to get on the internet. To me, that's gouging. Rather than cheat the hotel, I simply don't use them, and share as broadly as possible that X hotel charges for internet.

    • I don't know if there's a tech that could tell when packets are coming from X machine, or coming form sources 'beyond' that machine, but to me it would be legit if a hotel *could* prevent such usage. Otherwise you have a freeloader issue.

      What one ISP I used once did, to prevent people with routers and networks from getting out, was to filter by TTL. Windows has a default TTL of 64. Any TTL below that was "beyond" a router. Of course, then everybody with an ounce of Google either had an iptables rule in their router to increase the TTL by one in mangle/POSTROUTING or, if the router was an off the shelf one, just tell each machine on the LAN to have a TTL of 65. The people not versed in Google-fu didn't have routers either, so everybody was b

  • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2015 @01:03PM (#48924909) Homepage
    It is not about security. If the hotels were concerned for security, they would make their secure WiFi free (even if it required a password) so that everyone could securely use their secure network.

    It's a money grab.

    Oh, but the hotels argue: it costs money to build and operate a WiFi network!

    I would point out that those hotels do not charge an extra fee for other things that have a substantial cost to build and substantial operating cost:
    • Indoor Plumbing
    • Electric Lighting
    • Electrical outlets
    • Air conditioning
    • Heating
    • Cable / Satellite TV

    Why aren't the hotels charging fees for those other things that have a substantial cost to build and operate?

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