This article pretty much covers it:
with “why it matters” fleshed out in comments.
The “bottom line” is that open source router software like OpenWRT are able to exist because you can take a bit of cheap router hardware running a mediocre bit of software from “firmware” and “reflash” it (i.e. put in your own firmware).
This lets you get all kinds of high end features without paying all sorts of marketing driven fees for it. It also lets you control your router and assure it is safe and not buggered. Not that every Three Letter Agency in the world wants to bugger your hardware and software, especially “from the factory”… (see the PRISM program for details…) /sarc;
Well, turns out that the radio inside the WiFi router has more power and more channels available than the USA FCC lets them use. One chip for many places, you see. So to prevent you from getting to that software defined radio and either turning up the power or adding those extra channels, the FCC has decided to rule that firmware must be factory locked.
This will only accidentally kill off open source (provably secure) source readable software and assure that any “bugs” (i.e. agency installed ‘features’) can’t be removed either. Sigh.
One will still have the option of building ‘from scratch’ with something like the Raspberry Pi, but the costs are higher and the skill level needed higher.
Since there’s maybe a couple of thousand folks in the whole USA bothering to make their own router software upgrades, and of them maybe a dozen? Less? who would bother with things like more power and / or the excluded channels, (valid in other countries, just not here), I can’t see where this is a major problem. Oh, and nothing much prevents me attaching a nice bit of coat hanger wire to my spark plugs and driving the car around – a much more noise making behaviour…
Oh Well. No nit too small for a bureaucracy to force industry to spend millions to quash.
We need a whole lot less government “helping us”…