FCC issues warning on Wi-Fi blocking, cites “disturbing” trend

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday sent out a public notice warning hotels, convention centers and other businesses not to tamper with consumers’ personal Wi-Fi hot spots, or else face penalties.

From the FCC’s statement:

In the 21st Century, Wi-Fi represents an essential on-ramp to the Internet. Personal Wi-Fi networks, or “hot spots,” are an important way that consumers connect to the Internet.  Willful or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hot spots is illegal…The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment’s premise.

The announcement comes months after the agency reached a $600,000 settlement with the Marriott International Hotel over that chain’s use of so called “de-authentication packets” to deactivate customers’ personal signals. Since that episode, the FCC claims, commercial internet providers have complained about numerous other incidents of businesses interfering with Wi-Fi. The agency also said it is conducting investigations — suggesting other fines may be forthcoming.

Hotels like Marriott have sought to frame the issue as one of safety, arguing that they want to limit “rogue” access points. But skeptics claim the hotel and others implement the blocking tactics for no other reason than to protect the lucrative fees they can charge consumers for access to in-house Wi-Fi.

Earlier this month, Marriott and other hotels backed a petition urging the FCC to change its Wi-Fi policies. Today’s notice suggests the agency’s answer is “no dice.”

Chromecast gets guest mode, thanks to cool ultrasonic tech

Google has officially started to roll out guest mode for Chromecast, making it possible to connect to a nearby Chromecast without being on the same Wifi network as long as the network owner permits it. Chromecast product manager Jagjit Chawla explained the feature this way in a blog post:

“You’re having friends over and before you know it, a battle has ensued in your living room over who can show the funniest YouTube video. Now, it’s even easier for your friends to cast to your TV without first having to connect to your WiFi. With the new guest mode feature, anyone with an Android device can cast to your TV as long as they’re in the same room. ”

The new feature is starting to roll out Thursday, and requires the most recent version of the Chromecast app for Android. Here’s how the feature is explained within that app:

chromecast guest mode

[company]Google[/company] first announced guest mode for Chromecast at its Google I/O developer conference in June. Back then, Chromecast engineers revealed that the streaming stick is using a pretty cool hack to pair with nearby devices: Instead of relying on NFC or other technologies that would have severely limited the number of devices capable of using guest mode, Chromecast playing an ultrasonic sound through the TV’s loudspeaker.

These sounds are inaudible to the human ear, but can be used to transmit small bits of information to a nearby mobile device that will then be used to pair the two devices. This kind of ultrasonic networking was pioneered by Google engineer Bori Smus, who released an experimental web app capable of sending emoji via ultrasonic sounds from one device to another in 2013.