In recent days, there has been a lot of talk about a certain US ISP blocking a port used by Bitcoin software. Even though the ISP in question denied the report and explained this issue could be resolved by manually forwarding the port, that might not be an option for much longer. If the FCC has a say in the matter, users will have a harder time modifying Wi-Fi routers.
FCC: No Censorship, Just Looking To Avoid Potential Problems
An average modem or router provided by an Internet Service Provider can only be modified up to a certain extent. While this limited accessibility is more than enough for the everyday consumer, geeks and techies want to explore the capabilities of these devices beyond those virtual “borders”. Needless to say, crossing that divide opens the door for all kinds of issues down the line, especially when a customer has no clue as to what he or she is actually doing.
Wi-Fi devices are delivered by manufacturers to operate within a certain threshold of parameters, ranging from the frequencies of operation to port forwarding and basic firewall settings. But that doesn’t mean these Wi-Fi devices aren’t capable of achieving higher speeds, a better range or even a more settings to tweak.
Gaining access to these additional settings and tools can be achieved by upgrading the device’s software, either issued by the manufacturer or using third-party software. OpenWRT is a fine example of such third-party software, as it is open source and allows the community to make changes and add features to explore by other users.
The Federal Communications Commission [FCC] wants to put a stop to interference in wireless networks. Furthermore, the FCC does not want to infringe on users’ rights, and third-party router firmware will not be deemed illegal by any means. That being said, a recent proposal by the FCC will extend far beyond just routers, as it also includes other devices with radios enabling cellular or Wi-Fi transmission.
To put this a bit into perspective: the usage of open source software will not be deemed illegal as long as it does not modify the radio frequency parameters. Every manufacturer will be given the option to define “borders” of what is deemed legal in terms of third-party software, and how they will enforce “control” over the software running on their devices.
Depending on how the FCC wants to paraphrase the final “verdict” in this matter, there are multiple likely outcomes. Either manufacturers will lock down their hardware and prevent the installation of third-party software installation, or things will remain the way they are now. One thing to keep in mind is that, when installing third-party software, the manufacturer is no longer obligated to provide support if things are not working as they should.
Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, installing third-party software offers users the tools needed to unlock the full potential of their Wi-Fi devices. Whether or not this is morally correct, is a different matter altogether. Some people just want to squeeze out every bit of performance from their device, and if they are willing to take the risk, they should be allowed to do so.
Potential Consequences for Bitcoin Users
The recent discussions regarding ISP’s blocking ports specifically used by Bitcoin Nodes has caused quite a bit of controversy. While the ISP denied the report, many Bitcoin enthusiasts still believe ISP’s can – and maybe even will – start to block certain ports in the future. However, the ISP’s might not be the major culprit in this scenario, as hardware manufacturers may be forced to do the same in the future.
While there is no indication given by either ISP’s or hardware manufacturers to actively block ports – used by Bitcoin software – for the time being, the proposal made by the FCC could have this “unintended” consequence. Whether or not this will be the case, remains to be seen, though, as there is no incentive for either party to do so.
A Save WiFi campaign has been started by several free software evangelists, allowing people from all over the world to send their thoughts and remarks to the FCC. The ball is now in the camp of Wi-Fi hardware manufacturers, to come up with a solution that prevents radio frequency modifications, yet still leaves the door open to third-party software installations.
What are your thoughts on this FCC proposal? Do you run third-party software on your router? Let us know in the comments below!
Source: Ars Technica
Images courtesy of OpenWRT, FCC, DD_WRT