Numerous media outlets have reported the recent FCC action fining Marriott International $600,000 for blocking consumer Wi-Fi networks including cellphone based hotspots. Relatively few reported the additional technical details provided by FCC itself, “that employees of Marriott had used features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system at the Gaylord Opryland to contain and/or de-authenticate guest-created Wi-Fi hotspot access points in the conference facilities. In some cases, employees sent de-authentication packets to the targeted access points, which would dissociate consumers’ devices from their own Wi-Fi hotspot access points and, thus, disrupt consumers’ current Wi-Fi transmissions and prevent future transmissions.” For the legally-minded, this violates section 333 of The Communications Act of 1934, which “prohibits willful or malicious interference with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the Act or operated by the U.S. Government (47 U.S.C. § 333).”
Sadly, restricting access to the internet has become a favorite past-time of companies and Governments alike. Twitter has been censored in many places, including China, Egypt, France, Iran, Russia, and now Turkey. A great map showing countries that block Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be found here. Since these restrictions are political, the response of protesters to their Government actions have been instructive. In Syria, clandestine uplinks and satellite phones were used to send out restricted video. Currently in Hong Kong (and earlier in Taiwan), protesters are using FireChat to enable and employ mesh networks that can communicate peer-to-peer without cellular infrastructure or the restrictions of the Great Firewall of China. [For more information on mesh networks, check out tomorrow’s posting].
Here in the West it tends to be more about the money. During the recent World Cup, both Univision (for later stage games) and the networks (for all games) limited access to live feeds unless you provided account information for a service provider (Verizon, for example). But the rules and agreements for limiting access to content are still very much in flux, and in the media business, “content is king”. Netflix for example and now HBO are continuing to move aggressively with original content and innovative distribution models that disrupt traditional approaches.
Bottom line is that access to modern communication and information, with minimal restrictions, seems to be a globally compelling phenomenon. So far, neither Corporations nor Governments have been able to contain or own the phenomenon by restricting access to content or to bandwidth. The genie seems to be out of the bottle on this one, and it would be surprising to see someone successfully stuff it back in again for any length of time.