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How not to get slammed by the FCC for Wi-Fi blocking

Bob Brown | Feb. 11, 2015
Healthcare giant’s wireless communications manager offers advice for navigating WiFi waters.

Are you yourself a hotspot user, and if so, under what circumstances do you employ the technology?

Yes, I am a hotspot user. I am, after all, the Wireless Manager and I spend a fair amount of time on the road working with our various hospitals, clinicians and vendors, giving presentations, etc. To stay in touch, I tether my devices to my cell phone. When I have the option, though, I tether via a USB cable, rather than use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The cable affords me extended battery life on the phone, less interference from RF congestion, and greater security. I make it a habit to NEVER use free Wi-Fi services.

Being a bit of a privacy advocate, in addition to the smart phone and laptop provided by my company for work, I also have a phone and tablet for personal use. Yes, I carry them all. My avoidance of free Wi-Fi extends to not using the WLAN in our hospitals for my personal devices. Call it paranoia resulting from years in military Combat Communications, dealing with communications security and electronic countermeasures, and then mixed with ensuring the security of our medical devices at work. And, if you really must know, I spent a week last year installing Cat6 drops in almost every room of my home. Wireless is OK, but if you REALLY expect performance, reliability and security, nothing beats a wire.

If organizations are currently using Wi-Fi management/security techniques that would run afoul of FCC rules, how easy is it for them to shift to a different approach? Are we talking rip and replace or fairly manageable revisions?

If someone is concerned they are currently running afoul of FCC rules, the good news is, it's not a "rip and replace" process to get back on the right side of the law. Assuming the entity concerned hasn't gone completely off the rails, it should be a fairly simple matter of turning off the offending services and reconfiguring a few settings. The bad news is, someone will need to tactfully realign the expectations of the end users with reality. That's hard enough when you do it up front, like we do. It's worse with the embarrassment of having to retract from your previous position.

How easy is it for an organization to work with the FCC to get guidance on their wireless network setups?

It's not impossible, but it does take patience. Remember, the FCC is a large, government bureaucracy. They are responsible for a lot of items, some news-worthy and most not. Things you might have heard on the evening news include network neutrality, mergers of cable companies and cellular companies, Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, etc. They get a LOT of phone calls and a LOT of email. Because of this, it's hard to get someone on the phone, or to receive an instantaneous response to your email. But someone will respond. I can't think of a single instance where I've felt ignored. I think the longest I've had to wait has been a couple of days.

 

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