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Yes, the FCC might ban your operating system-????????

Discussion in 'All other topics' started by ireland, Sep 22, 2015.

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  1. ireland

    ireland Active member

    Nov 28, 2002
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    Yes, the FCC might ban your operating system-????????


    Over the last few weeks a discussion has flourished over the FCC’s Notification of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on modular transmitters and electronic labels for wireless devices. Some folks have felt that the phrasing has been too Chicken-Little-like and that the FCC’s proposal doesn’t affect the ability to install free, libre or open source operating system. The FCC in fact says their proposal has no effect on open source operating systems or open source in general. The FCC is undoubtedly wrong.

    I want to make something entirely clear: I believe the FCC has the best of intentions. I believe they want to protect the radio spectrum and implement the E-LABEL Act as required by Congress. I believe they want to protect innovation in the technology industry. I also believe that their proposal harms innovation, endangers the free, libre and open source community and is generally anti-user.

    Just the basics
    Before we get into the exact regulations, it’s important to understand some background material. The FCC exists in part to provide rules and regulations for managing the radio spectrum. Since the spectrum is a finite resource, the FCC acts as the referee to try to make sure all users can use the spectrum for communication and experimentation. While difficult, the FCC manages the needs of different classes of users, such as amateur radio operators, unlicensed users (like for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, etc), commercial operators, armed forces and safety personnel, and air traffic control. Each of these classes of users has a right to operate in particular areas of the radio spectrum as long as they behave in an appropriate manner.

    The rules on appropriate usage vary by class but they mostly relate to making sure users aren’t operating in a way which prevents other users from using the spectrum. As an example, users may be limited to a certain power-level in order to guarantee their transmissions only cover a small area. In the case of Wi-Fi users, the power of the transmission is limited to a small amount. While it varies by band and channel, in all cases the allowed transmission power for a Wi-Fi device is no more than 1 watt.

    What happens though if a number of people were to violate these rules and run their Wi-Fi network at a much higher power level, say 1 kilowatt or 1000 times more power? In the event the users had the hardware to support this, this network would have an extreme range. At first blush that sounds great but there’s a problem. Remember: the radio spectrum is a finite resource. In the case of 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, there are under 14 channels and, in the US, only 11 channels are effectively legal and only three are not overlapping. Each channel can have more than one Wi-Fi network on it but the bandwidth must be shared between the networks. If multiple networks were running at 1 kilowatt, none of the networks would be usable since there’d be potentially dozens of networks on each channel. By keeping wattage low and the range of Wi-Fi networks small, the spectrum can be more easily shared.

    While regulating users helps protect the spectrum, imagine if the devices themselves caused interference. For example, let’s say your router in its default setup occasionally started transmitting unexpectedly at 1 kilowatt. This lack of reliability would have many of the same effects of users intentionally operating at 1 kilowatt. More importantly users may only operate devices in the manner in which the user is authorized. If the device may only be operated at say 1 watt and it instead operates at 1 kilowatt, the user is operating “outside of authorization” even if they don’t intend to do so. While the FCC may take intent into consideration when assessing penalties, they are not required to do so. Additionally, penalties for operating outside of authorization can be quite substantial. Since the user can be held liable for this, making sure devices are reliable is important.

    In order to protect users and the spectrum from unintended damages, the FCC requires all devices sold in the US meet certain standards to assure reliability. This is called “equipment authorization.” During the equipment authorization process, the manufacturer must submit information about the device to the FCC, or someone working on their behalf. An independent laboratory must test the device to ensure unintended, unauthorized transmission doesn’t occur. If the manufacturer does not receive equipment authorization, the device may not be sold in the US.

    What is a device anyway?
    When we use the word device in the context of equipment authorization, it’s important to know the term device is a little broader than developer parlance. In the terms of the FCC and wireless radios, the term device includes the hardware used for making the wireless transmission, primarily the wireless radio, as well as any software which can control aspects of the radio transmission such as frequency, transmission power, type of transmission, etc. This is implied by the rule at 47 CFR 15.407(i).

    How does an operating system kernel interact with a wireless radio?


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