Tag Archives: Wi-Fi Blocking

An Open Letter to the FCC

Dear Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners,

In response to the recent Commission actions relating to Smart City  and Marriott blocking of Wi-Fi hotspots, as a WLAN professional I implore you to recognize that these actions are creating significant amounts of confusion for enterprise Wi-Fi environments and those of us who keep them operational for the millions of business clients that use them every day.

The running theme of late very much seems to be “you can’t use Wi-Fi mitigation techniques to deny individuals the use of their paid-for cellular-equipped personal hotspots” (my own words). But from here, the questions start.

DA 15-113 Enforcement Advisory states clearly “Willful or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hot spots is illegal.” That seems pretty cut and dry, until later in the document we read “No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi-Fi network. Such action is illegal and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties.”

Given that most of us doing Wi-Fi are not lawyers and very much want to stay within legal boundaries, these questions hang over the WLAN space:

  1. What constitutes an “other commercial establishment”? Would these be hospitals? Universities? Does it even really matter? If not, why call out just hotels and conference centers?
  2. There is emphasis on Wi-Fi blocking being frowned upon especially when it is used to try to force those using hotspots onto an expensive WLAN service. What if blocking ISN’T used to try to push hotspot users onto a pay Wi-Fi service, but to try to eliminate a hotspot that’s significantly interfering with an organization’s private Wi-Fi and business operations- especially if a free Wi-Fi option is available to the hotspot users?
  3. Are hotspot users free to bring their devices anywhere and everywhere regardless of the interference caused by those hotspots?
  4. In  DA 15-113, and other FCC documents (including those related to Mariott), blocking of Wi-Fi is increasingly implied to equal “jamming”. Does blocking Wi-Fi with either wide band noise in the traditional sense OR network frame manipulation in fact now constitute jamming?
  5. Pretty much all major WLAN vendors sell network management systems that include the very mitigation tools that were used by Marriott and Smart City to block hotspots. Are these tools legal under any circumstances? (If frame manipulation now equals jamming, it would seem not.) If they do have an envisioned legal use, in what situations can they be used without an administrator needing to worry about running afoul of the law? This is perhaps the absolute murkiest aspect of the entire Marriott/Smart City situation to those of us who bought these tools on good faith from our WLAN vendors. If blocking of Wi-Fi is illegal in every situation, why are these tools allowed on the market?

Without clear guidance, there is broad room for misinterpretation of what the FCC both is and is not saying on this general matter. PLEASE consider revisiting DA 15-113 and providing greater clarity on the above questions, for the benefit of all concerned.

Kind regards,

Lee Badman