Slurpr! Slurpr! For Fun Legal Questions, It's A Wonderful Toy.

Numerous websites that follow wireless news have reported about a new wireless box called Slurpr, which allows someone to aggregate up to six open wifi access points at once. In just about the next sentence, of each of these reports warns of the potential legal consequences of “stealing wifi” by using an open network that the operator does not intend for open use. Or, as Glenn Fleishman put it: “This might get you arrested six times in one day.”

But will it? And, perhaps more importantly, should it? With the rise of applications like FON, wifi enabled phones, and now the introduction of Slurpr, we need to get this issue resolved sooner rather than later. Otherwise, we can expect to see more arrests of folks unaware they are committing a crime and another equipment/application industry killed off by regulatory uncertainty.

As I have argued before, it makes much better legal and policy sense to require access point operators (and the equipment manufacturers who set the defaults) responsible for their own equipment and require them to close a network rather than to require the public to treat all open networks as off limits unless the operator somehow expressly tells the user it’s o.k. Why shouldn’t the act of blasting an open network into a publicly accessible place or onto someone else’s property be sufficient invitation to use the network, especially when it would encourage people to set power levels to appropriate levels and stop imposing interference costs on the rest of us? Why on Earth do we want a legal presumption that imposes obligations on the broader public instead of the operator, makes it much harder for people that actively want to share their networks, and encourages (rather than discourages) interference problems and poor spectrum management? Most especially, why do we do this when creating this presumption actually flies in the face of the usual legal presumptions about intrusions of private property into the public sphere?

The only answer I can come up with is that network technologies appears to have the amazing power of turning certain people’s brains into pudding and making them forget about 10,000 years of human experience of living in urban environments. For further elaboration on these themes, see below . . .

Continue reading

Rethinking the Paradigm: From “Theft of Wi-Fi” to Public Nuisance or “My Noisy Neighbor, Mr. Lynkisis”

This recent piece on mobile phones that use VOIP through open access points has revived the debate on whether your use of an open access point constitutes “theft” of wifi or “tresspass” into my neighbor’s network.

I’d like to suggest that we flip this and ask a different question: is my noisy neighbor Mr. Lynksis, who blasts his access point into my home thus causing interference and potentially screwing up my own network settings, a public nuisance? And if so, what should I do about Mr. Lynksis, the noisy neighbor that I may not even be able to locate with certainty?

As I argue below, I think we should establish by law that any open access point detectable by standard hardware and software is available for public use (assuming I have a legal right to be in the physical location I’m in when I detect the network). Such a law will poduce positive social benefits, whereas a presumption that use of an open access point is “stealing wifi” produces social costs.

My analysis below . . . .

Continue reading

Big Win For Community Wireless At FCC

The FCC released its long awaited decision resolving Continental Airline’s complaint that Massport cannot order it to shut down its free wifi access for Continental customers.

While supremely important for its ultimate holding, the case contains many positive and useful determinations for unlicensed generally. It also contains two outstanding concurring statementsfrom the Democratic Commissioners. You can see Copps’ concurence here, and Adelstein’s here.

That’s also very good news. Almost a year ago, I worried that, with the departure of Michael Powell and Ed Thomas from the FCC, and the departure of Michael Gallagher from NTIA no one would champion the cause of unlicensed spectrum. But as Copps and Adelstein have shown, both in this decision and in their actions in last month’s item on the broadcast white spaces, Copps and Adelstein ‘get it’ on unlicensed spectrum and why it is so important.

Further analysis below . . .

Continue reading

Small But Potentially Significant Spectrum Ruling

Unnoticed by most folks, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a public notice on the legality of cell phone jammers. (They aren’t.) Oddly, this may have very significant impacts for users of unlicensed spectrum.

Continue reading