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Internet Architecture Board defends users' rights to mod Wi-Fi kit

Net boffins to FCC: spread the love, don't fear spectrum spread

The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) has gently suggested to the United States' Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that locking WiFi kit to manufacturers' firmware forever might not be a good idea.

The IAB's submission to the FCC, made last week, is in response to the FCC suggesting a crack-down on open-source firmware like OpenWrt.

The FCC's mooted ban-hammer is designed to keep devices like WiFi routers operating in their designated spectrum, with the regulator fearful that inept modders could grab something like emergency spectrum in their eternal search for a channel that isn't contested by every other access point within reach.

The IAB, which last year decided to make user privacy and security the focus of its efforts, is particularly concerned that a ban on non-vendor firmware will leave stranded users with orphan devices that no longer get manufacturer support.

Its October 7 letter to the FCC – which landed a day before the FCC's extended submission deadline – says non-vendor firmware is needed "because a manufacturer ceasing operation would otherwise leave all hardware orphaned from update, which itself poses significant potential security risks."

Researchers and tinkerers should also be able to work without fear of breaking FCC rules merely by re-flashing radio kit, the IAB says. "Many radio frequency devices originally intended for one set of use cases have been adapted by the experimental and open source communities for new uses."

Stifling innovation isn't in anybody's interest, the letter argues.

If the Feds truly anticipate widespread chaos from the continued existence of open-source-moddable wireless kit, the IAB suggests the FCC put in place a mechanism ("as simple as possible") by which such features can be authorized. ®


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