The FCC just forced TP-Link to support open-source router firmware

Yes, the same FCC that recently seemed to send the opposite message.

TP-Link Archer C3200
Michael Brown

The strange saga of the FCC and open-source router firmware continues. After new FCC rules encouraged TP-Link and other router manufacturers to block open-source firmware, the FCC is now forcing TP-Link to do the opposite, and support open-source firmware.

TP-Link agreed to the FCC’s wishes in a settlement

As Ars Technica noticed, TP-Link just came to a settlement with the FCC. TP-Link was selling routers that allowed users to change the country code to operate in unlicensed ways in the United States. TP-Link agreed to pay a fine of $200,000 and follow the FCC’s rules in the future. But, most interestingly, TP-Link also agreed to enable open-source firmware to function on its routers.

That’s interesting because TP-Link’s violation had nothing to do with open-source router firmware. In fact, the FCC doesn’t require manufacturers to support third-party router firmware. Furthermore, recent FCC rules even made it more difficult for manufacturers to support open-source router firmware, by requiring manufacturers to ensure that the open-source firmware wouldn't allow a router’s radio to operate in an unlicensed fashion. Linksys, for its part, has been going out of its way to enable open-source firmware, but most router manufacturers just chose to not bother.

But the FCC isn’t coming down hard against third-party router firmware. In fact, it went out of its way to extract a pledge that TP-Link “will investigate for certain of its router models the development of U-NII security solutions that would allow for the use of third-party firmware with its devices while meeting the Commission’s U-NII security requirements and maintaining the integrity of critical radio parameters.” The details are in the settlement itself.

In the announcement, the FCC’s Travis LeBlanc said, “While manufacturers of Wi-Fi routers must ensure reasonable safeguards to protect radio parameters, users are otherwise free to customize their routers and we support TP-Link’s commitment to work with the open source community and Wi-Fi chipset manufacturers to enable third-party firmware on TP-Link routers.“

This is big news. Not only does it mean that TP-Link hardware will be open to open-source firmware, it means that the FCC is actually going out of its way to encourage open-source firmware instead of trying to stamp it out. 

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