College backs off Wi-Fi ban

Apparently, the school did not have the right to forbid students from using the popular 802.11g and 802.11b standards.

Richard Shim
Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
2 min read
High-tech tensions at the University of Texas at Dallas are easing, as administrators are curtailing the regulation of private hot spots in campus housing, but problems with interference may continue.

Administrators issued a regulatory policy last Wednesday barring students from installing certain types of Wi-Fi networks in campus housing. Students were not allowed to use 802.11g or 802.11b products, but they could set up equipment using the less-popular 802.11a standard. The policy was in response to complaints that the unregulated hot spots were interfering with the university's own wireless service, which is offered freely to students and staff, campus technology administrators said.

However, the policy was lifted last Friday, because it was not clear that the university had the legal right to enforce the policy, according to Steve McGregor, a spokesman for the university.

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"That campus housing is not a traditional dorm...they're not owned by the university, so, upon review, we didn't feel comfortable regulating those private hot spots," McGregor said.

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Students also pointed to a public notice from the Federal Communications Commission dated June 24, which affirmed the consumer's right to install and operate unlicensed equipment.

Interference from overlapping Wi-Fi hot spots is becoming a common problem with the growing popularity of the technology. The radio spectrum used with Wi-Fi technology is unlicensed, or unregulated. This makes Wi-Fi easy to develop and cheap to sell, but it leaves individuals or technology makers to solve problems such as interference as they arise.

"We've seen substantial growth of hot spots in campus housing, which has led to interference between apartments," McGregor said. "Folks will have to figure it out individually."

The inexpensive and easy-to-install nature of Wi-Fi technology has made it popular in colleges and universities, which have been a hotbed for experimenting with and developing new wireless broadband services.

Restricting installation of Wi-Fi networks has been a common tactic to prevent interference. Large companies have even gone as far as buying technology to seek out "rogue access points"--unauthorized Wi-Fi hot spots within businesses--and to disabled them. Those hot spots are a risk because they're essentially unsecure holes that could expose corporate information.

The University of Texas at Dallas was founded as a private research institution by Texas Instruments, which is a major player in the wireless networking industry. The institute was turned over to the state in 1969. More than 14,000 students attend the school.