Google, Cisco, Microsoft, others weigh in on Marriott's Wi-Fi network management petition

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Cisco, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Aruba Networks and Ruckus Wireless are just a handful of the companies weighing in on an FCC petition filed on behalf of Marriott International and related parties.

Marriott filed the petition, along with the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and Ryman Hospitality Properties, asking for a ruling from the FCC on the legalities around how Wi-Fi operators manage their networks. They say Wi-Fi operators should have the ability to manage their network so that they can offer secure and reliable service.

The petitioners stated at the outset that their petition was not about any actual or threatened interference to licensed spectrum or spectrum used by the government. It's also not about implicating the commission's net-neutrality rules, and it does not involve signal jammers, they said.

Google and Microsoft are among those that seized on the "jammer" issue, both citing the commission's prior comments that jammers are illegal. While the hotel industry petition argues that it "does not involve signal jammers," Microsoft said that's irrelevant, given the commission considers "jammers" to be a broader range of devices that are designed to block, jam or otherwise interfere with authorized radio communications."

It all ties back to a settlement Marriott reached with the FCC back in October to pay $600,000 to settle a claim that Marriott's employees used Wi-Fi monitoring equipment at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., to prevent individuals from connecting to the Internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks.  

When the settlement was announced, Marriott said it believed the Gaylord Opryland's actions were lawful and it vowed to continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking order "to eliminate the ongoing confusion" resulting from the fine. It had filed a petition for a declaratory ruling on the matter in August, but the FCC did not invite comments until November, with a deadline of Dec. 19.

To support their argument, the hotel industry petitioners referred to a number of  network management practices at more than 20 public and private universities, many of which use various techniques to ensure network performance. "In every single policy cited, the university reserves the right to limit use of its own network," Google said in its filing.

For instance, Duke University places restrictions on users of excessive bandwidth on its network; Georgetown prohibits the use of its proprietary network for illegally sharing music or consuming excessive amounts of storage. But these types of practices are targeting the university's own network. "None of the schools prohibit students, faculty or guests from accessing other networks not managed by the university itself, as petitioners seek permission to do," Google said in the filing.

In a joint filing, the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation and Public Knowledge said Marriott and its fellow petitioners are only after a means to coerce guests and visitors to pay them for a service that a rapidly increasing share of consumers already pay for through their mobile carrier and/or cable Internet subscription or even through an aggregator like Boingo Wireless.

CTIA weighed in as well, saying Wi-Fi operators have other means to manage their networks, such as denying port access or using MAC address blacklists to protect Wi-Fi networks from "honey pot" or other security threats. In addition, operators can tune devices to less congested frequencies or hop to a number of different frequencies to avoid interference, or reduce the separation distance between the transmitter and receiver, the association said.

Coming from a different perspective, Wi-Fi vendor Cisco is urging the commission to issue a policy statement on Wi-Fi management, possibly in the form of an Office of Engineering and Technology bulletin, that identifies and recommends the use of industry best practices promoting the use of the unlicensed spectrum "in accordance with evolving public policy objectives and discouraging questionable conduct."

According to Cisco, the facts that form the basis of the Wi-Fi operators' request do not involve interference or the use of jammers. An access point (AP) that transmits an "IEEE 802.11 deauthentication frame to contain an AP or other device is not a jammer and the signal it transmits does not cause electromagnetic interference," Cisco said.

Similarly, Wi-Fi equipment vendors Aruba and Ruckus, which filed joint comments, said that the commission should acknowledge the important role that network management systems play in protecting networks, both wired and wireless. Network operators are faced with a variety of cybersecurity challenges, including "evil twin" attacks where an unauthorized access point is set up to spoof a network AP to pretend to be a legitimate AP belonging to the network in order to steal passwords and other data.

They argue that there are benefits to consumers and network users when their data and relatively open Wi-Fi and IP networks are protected by network operators using management and other techniques from data thieves and cybercriminals. They urge the commission to use the proceeding to adopt rules and guidelines regarding the appropriate use of network management techniques that are consistent with legitimate network and other security, legal and policy needs of the network operator.

The network management tool that led to Marriott's settlement with the FCC uses one of the most common techniques for managing Wi-Fi use--the transmission of standards-based IEEE 802.11 Layer 2 deauthentication frames that can be used to "contain" potentially harmful APs, Aruba and Ruckus said in their filing. "The commission can and should use the AHLA Petition as a vehicle for nuanced balancing of the commission's policies promoting unlicensed spectrum, and Wi-Fi in particular, with the needs of network operators to maintain secure and reliable Wi-Fi networks," they said.

For more:
- see this Re/Code article
PCWorld has this article

Related articles:
Marriott, other venues want FCC to clarify Wi-Fi network-management rules
Marriott to pay $600K fine over Wi-Fi blocking allegations

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