from the sudden-outbreak-of-common-sense dept.
Ars Technica has an article about Linksys committing to maintaining open source firmware usage for the WRT series of routers. This is a follow up to a previous story that ran when the original announcement regarding FCC (Federal Communications Commission) enforcement of 5.8 Ghz part 15 device requirements came out. At least there remains one well known product that decided to implement the requirement in a way that is consumer modification friendly. From the article:
Any 5GHz routers sold on or after June 2 must include security measures that prevent these types of changes. But router makers can still allow loading of open source firmware as long as they also deploy controls that prevent devices from operating outside their allowed frequencies, types of modulation, power levels, and so on.
This takes more work than simply locking out third-party firmware entirely, but Linksys, a division of Belkin, made the extra effort. On and after June 2, newly sold Linksys WRT routers will store RF parameter data in a separate memory location in order to secure it from the firmware, the company says. That will allow users to keep loading open source firmware the same way they do now.
Though I disagree with this notion
Although Linksys has proven that open source firmware can still be used under the new FCC rules, it's clear that options for open source users will be more limited than they are today. Kaloz wishes the FCC had taken a different approach, one focused on punishing people who cause interference without preventing legitimate uses of network hardware.
Is the suggestion that the Doppler weather radar in use at airports is less important than getting cat pictures from the comfort of your couch and not having to run an extra Ethernet cable? Because Delta Flight 191 is why these airport Doppler weather radar systems exist at all. Do we punish before or after the crash? As well I don't think there is an appreciation for just how hard it is to find malfunctioning transmitters: it can be done but with significant amounts of work. The FCC is not funded for this level of enforcement right now. Everyone must share the very finite electromagnetic spectrum. I don't have a problem giving life and safety critical systems priority over cat videos.
As a quick experiment locate your WiFi router and check the verbiage. I'm sure everyone has seen the part 15 text but probably never paid attention to it. You will find This device may not cause harmful interference as well as this device must accept any interference received. That's because the weather radar, by design, gets to break you but you don't get to break it.
Ernie Smith, an editor at Tedium, has explored the historical events which led to the Linksys WRT54G router becoming so popular. It rose to fame because of an undocumented feature which, once discovered, led to great interest in the wider ICT [*] community.
Mikas caught something interesting, but something that shouldn’t have been there. This was an oversight on the part of Cisco, which got an unhappy surprise about a popular product sold by its recent acquisition just months after its release. Essentially, what happened was that one of their suppliers apparently got a hold of Linux-based firmware, used it in the chips supplied to the company by Broadcom, and failed to inform Linksys, which then sold the software off to Cisco.
In a 2005 column for Linux Insider, Heather J. Meeker, a lawyer focused on issues of intellectual property and open-source software, wrote that this would have been a tall order for Cisco to figure out on its own:
The first takeaway from this case is the difficulty of doing enough diligence on software development in an age of vertical disintegration. Cisco knew nothing about the problem, despite presumably having done intellectual property diligence on Linksys before it bought the company. But to confound matters, Linksys probably knew nothing of the problem either, because Linksys has been buying the culprit chipsets from Broadcom, and Broadcom also presumably did not know, because it in turn outsourced the development of the firmware for the chipset to an overseas developer.
To discover the problem, Cisco would have had to do diligence through three levels of product integration, which anyone in the mergers and acquisitions trade can tell you is just about impossible. This was not sloppiness or carelessness—it was opaqueness.
Bruce Perens, a venture capitalist, open-source advocate, and former project leader for the Debian Linux distribution, told LinuxDevices that Cisco wasn’t to blame for what happened, but still faced compliance issues with the open-source license.