The Federal Communications Commission says it doesn’t want to stop you from installing third-party firmware such as DD-WRT and OpenWRT on your Wi-Fi router. It just wants to stop unofficial software from changing the radio frequency parameters and potentially cause harmful interference.
Concerns about the FCC’s intentions for routers came out in October during the commission’s overhaul of its rules for evaluating and approving radio frequency devices. One document that came to light during this period, and was actually created during a different rule making process, asked manufacturers of wireless devices to describe the “overall security measures and systems” that ensure a device can’t operate outside its intended RF parameters.
“Describe in detail how the device is protected from “flashing” and the installation of third-party firmware such as DD-WRT,” the document said.
Further reading: Teach your router new tricks with DD-WRT
On its own, that appears to be a pretty clear statement that the FCC doesn’t want people messing with their Wi-Fi routers—so much so it it inspired the Electronic Frontier Foundation to start a petition over the issue.
Soon after, the FCC clarified in a public statement that it only meant to prevent a device from causing harmful interference.
Why this matters: Although very few people do it, more technical users like to swap out a Wi-Fi router’s original firmware for third-party, open source options. Many people would rather install their own firmware rather than depend on a manufacturer for critical security patches, for example. Others may want to experiment with open source firmware for projects such as a Pirate Box.The fear was that the FCC’s rules would have disallowed for all of these activities.
Now the FCC has come out with an updated document officially clarifying its intentions.
The new document asks devices makers to:
Describe, if the device permits third-party software or firmware installation, what mechanisms are provided by the manufacturer to permit integration of such functions while ensuring that the RF parameters of the device cannot be operated outside its authorization for operation in the U.S.
That’s a much clearer statement and should satisfy at least some critics.