FCC provides WiFi hot spots in Washington

The Federal Communications Commission has begun offering free wireless Internet access to visitors at its headquarters at 445 12th St. S.W. in Washington.

'It's a demonstration network,' FCC spokesman Richard Diamond said. 'It's a demonstration of the government embracing a new technology and making it available.'

FCC chairman Michael K. Powell last year ordered the commission to make the wireless hot spots available.

The system uses the 802.11a and 802.11b protocols and lets users with their own computers and wireless interface cards connect with the Internet at no charge.

Internet access is provided through UUNet, the Internet backbone owned by WorldCom Inc. Wireless access points are from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

'It is not connected to the FCC internal network,' Diamond said, so there is no security and no authentication required to log on.

'At present, FCC will not request personal identifying information prior to allowing access,' the agency said in a statement. 'If requested by outside authorities, however, FCC will provide data from system audit logs to support external investigations of improper Internet use.'

The public hot spots are not intended for official FCC use, Diamond said. They are located on the 12th Street side of the building, where the lobby and commission meeting room are; in the courtyard, where the media office and outside seating areas are; and the eighth floor, which houses the commissioners' offices.

'This will let reporters file stories on the fly,' Diamond said.

The hot spots are similar to public access points provided in hotels, airports and at retail locations such as Starbucks and McDonald's, 'except that we don't charge,' Diamond said. He said he does not think it will provide unfair competition to the stores. 'We don't provide coffee or hamburgers.'

FCC does not provide technical support for the system, and all transactions using the service are the responsibility of the visitor. System outages can be reported to (202) 418-9434.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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