Are You Sharing Your Wifi?

Category: Wireless

Over the past few years, cable companies have built a network of several million WiFi hotspots open to the public. If you get your Internet access from one of these cable companies, you can use this nationwide WiFi network for free. However, you may unknowingly be providing one of those hotspots, also for free. Is it fair, safe, and legal? Read on...

Is Your Cable Modem EVERYONE’S Hotspot?

The Cable WiFi Alliance consists of Comcast Xfinity, Cox Communications, Brighthouse Networks, Cablevision Optimum, and Time-Warner Communications. The goal of the alliance is a nationwide WiFi hotspot network that a customer of any alliance member can use, even when they are not in their cable provider’s territory. Even non-customers can get a free trial and pay a daily or monthly fee for temporary hotspot access.

This is good news for travelers and people on the go. Not so good for residential and business customers in some territories is the news that they are hosting these public WiFi hotspots.

Brighthouse, Cablevision, and TWC are deploying their own WiFi hotspots. But Comcast and Cox are using the routers they installed in their customers’ homes and businesses. And a lot of customers are unhappy about sharing their routers with strangers.
Comcast Wifi Hotspots - modem sharing

“Except they aren’t your routers,” is the response of Comcast and Cox. Only cable modems leased from the companies are being co-opted into the Cable WiFi Alliance network of hotspots. If you bought your modem at Best Buy or on eBay it won’t be added to the alliance’s network, even if it’s a Comcast or Cox branded modem. But if you lease a modem, Comcast and Cox claim that your monthly service payment does not buy you the right to use that modem exclusively.

Comcast and Cox say there’s nothing to be concerned about. Their hotspots are “walled off” from traffic on customers’ private networks. The hotspots even use different IP addresses, so you can prove to a judge that it wasn’t you downloading illicit or illegal content, even though the traffic passed through your router.

We Beg to Differ...

It's one thing to intentionally provide a secure password-protected wifi hotspot. But you definitely don't want to leave your wifi signal unprotected and open to all. Don't miss my related articles: Is Someone Stealing Your WiFi? and Avoid These Five WiFi Security Mistakes.

Two San Francisco Comcast customers have launched a class-action lawsuit alleging this modem-sharing endangers customers’ privacy. It also alleges that Comcast is making customers pay the electric bills of its Xfinity WiFi hotspot network, and increasing congestion on customers’ Internet connections.

Comcast says there should be no drop in speed because its hotspots are using a portion of its modems’ potential bandwidth that isn’t available to customers anyway. As for stealing electricity, Comcast says its modems don’t use any more electricity when they’re hosting hotspots.

Alex Gizis, CEO of Speedify, points out that Xfinity WiFi hotspots operate on the 2.4 GHz frequency, the same default frequency as customers’ networks. Sharing a frequency channel with a nearby WiFi network is a frequent cause of RF interference and performance degradation. (“Change your channel” is standard WiFi troubleshooting advice; there are 12 available in most modems.)

Gizis also measured how much more electricity his Comcast modem consumed when the Xfinity WiFi hotspot was being used. He estimated that if the hotspot was used 24/7/365, the average customer electric bill would be about $22 higher annually. However, it seems highly unlikely to me that any single hotspot would be in continuous use.

There is a way to opt out of participating in Comcast’s Xfinity WiFi on your leased residential modem. However, users have reported that when Comcast pushes a firmware update out to its leased modems, the default becomes “opt in” again. So you may have to check periodically, and opt out again.

It appears that Cox does not provide an opt-out. Verizon, which is not a member of the alliance, is deploying its own hotspots, but is not requiring customers to share their router/modem with strangers. Verizon says that FiOS Internet and Verizon High Speed Internet customers will have access to these Verizon Wi-Fi hotspots.

On the whole, I think ubiquitous wifi access is a good thing, especially for those who tote smartphones or tablets. Using wifi instead of burning through your minutes or mobile data allowance will save many mobile users money. If Comcast and Cox's hotspots are truly “walled off” and the extra electricity costs only 2-3 cents a month, I personally wouldn't have a problem with it.

How would you feel about sharing your cable modem or router with neighbors, strangers or passersby? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Are You Sharing Your Wifi?"

(See all 26 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

05 May 2015

Nope, not me ... I would not like to share my Wi-Fi, with strangers!!!

I do share my Wi-Fi, with family and friends, when they are in my home. I know these people and can trust them, not to mess with my Wi-Fi. Strangers ... Always, an unknown factor.

While, my router is technically "owned" by AT&T, I think, my paying for the installation and the monthly charges, more than pays for my router. One thing, when the provider owns the router or modem, if, you have any problems, they usually will replace it for free. Own it yourself, you have to pay for a new one and be without the Internet, until you get a new one. Either way, you are usually left without Internet, for a couple of days or more.

At this point in time, AT&T is not taking part of their customers Wi-Fi, to "pump up" their Hotspots. In all honesty, my router is still DSL technically, and I am not sure, if, they could actually take some of my broadband, to enhance their Wi-Fi Hotspots.

Yes, larger bandwidth is available, for AT&T customers, but, mainly in the larger Metro cities. I am not sure, if, the really large bandwidths for AT&T, are fiberoptic or copper wire. My 24Mpbs is still copper wire, not fiberoptic. That may make the difference.

I value not only my privacy ... But, my security as well ... Therefore, I do NOT want to share my broadband, with strangers!!!

Posted by:

05 May 2015

Not willing! If I'm paying, whether by the month or in full, I want the full bandwidth I paid for without any interference or degradation that may occur from any other use of the modem. If it's used for or by others then I'm also entitled to compensation for the space it occupies (rent), power consumed and heat generated my AC unit must remove. It gets hot in Georgia!

Posted by:

Mike in Colorado
05 May 2015

I have an Xfinity WiFi router. I assume it's broadcasting a public signal but I haven't noticed a decrease in the quality of service. In fact, since I got this new modem, my speeds have greatly increased!
My latest speed test this morning is 179.5 Mbps down. I get pretty much the same speed in the evenings as well.

Posted by:

05 May 2015

While I think mobile WiFi hotspots are a good idea, I don't think people who pay a monthly fee should have to share with people who are not living in the same home. Why should I provide internet for others who are not paying for it? Besides, I personally think it's too much of a risk as far as identity theft goes. I might be wrong, but it is still my opinion and I'll stick by it.

Posted by:

Peter Wall
05 May 2015

When you lease an apartment, does the landlord have the right to rent it to a second lessor who can move in on top of you? If you rent a vehicle, does the lessor have the right to let others use it after you park it? These "big business" corporations are flaunting the law!

Posted by:

Paul Breaux
05 May 2015

As a COX customer, I have both a Cisco modem and a Netgear router, and reading todays post, has got me confused... and a bit riled. The Netgear Router COX says, is one I OWN, that they sold to me, but the Cisco modem, is rented not owned by me. Because I have phone service with COX, the modem is FREE to use, but if I drop my phone service, to go only with VOIP, they'll start charging me a monthly fee, that in truth, would be about the same cost as COX basic phone, not the upgraded version, that I have. So they get me coming and going. What riled me, and maybe I'm confused and not reading it right, but even if I OWN THE ROUTER, I STILL DON'T HAVE RIGHTS WITH IT? WIFI Hotspot, and I damn sure don't want to provide one for others to leech off of. I'm paying better than $60 a month, for 50 MGBS, so I don't want to furnish a FREEBIE TO ANYONE, but that is wrong, that we can't stop it. We should stop borrowing a fortune from CHINA to keep the Nation from going BANKRUPT..., because that money we borrow and owe, is turning us into a Nation that follows their way of thinking. What happened to our personal freedoms? Thanks.

Posted by:

05 May 2015

You are mistaken about Cablevision. Like Comcast and Cox, Cablevision is most definitely using the routers they install in their customers’ homes and businesses as wifi hotspots.

Posted by:

Raymond Combs
05 May 2015

I took a different approach. When I first got my "new and improved" Infinity modem, I simply called Comcast and had them turn off (bridge), the Wi-Fi. I simply use my own Router.

BTW, as for just buying my own modem, I have "Triple Play", which includes a telephone jack for VOIP. Try to find one NOT supplied by Comcast "rental", that has this port!!!

Posted by:

05 May 2015

Sad you see it like that. I see you don´t read it well. I don´t share your view, but I respect it.

ALL users of the Alliance can use it for FREE. That includes YOU when YOU are away from home.

YOU PAY for your service, so do other people connecting to your 3c a month.

On the other hand YOU can use everybody´s 3c when away from home. And use them for FREE.

It is a FREE service FOR PEOPLE WITH A CONTRACT, just like YOU.

YOU can cooperate to lower prices for sharing your 3c a month this way.
You won´t even spend a dollar every two years.

No one can exploit your "away from home" resources situation and charge you full dollars a day and not cents a month. Haven´t you been away and had to pay 5 or 10 bucks for crappy WiFi use for a few hours ?

It will still be a deal if you use this service once every 10 years.

If you think you wont use it in 10 years, yeah, may be you wasted two dollars in ten years. But, did you expect to use this amount of technology ten years a go ?

If some company would ask you to pay 2 dollars to use this technology for 10 years... would you accept ?

If you fear everybody around you are cyber crime experts, ok, shut your unit off and move away from your nasty neighbors. Go up to the mountains and live in a cave, with no electricity and no polluting fuels, live unplugged and you will still hide from the spying satellites. Careful, big brother is watching...

BUT if you live on the real world, keep your balance, not everybody out there is a criminal waiting for you. Don´t let THOSE CRIMINALS see you fear them.

Take reasonable safe measures, SURE, but don´t stop from sharing, you will have it back any time you go out and have the service for free just because you share.

Posted by:

05 May 2015

I have a rented modem from Xfinity, and asked Comcast to turn off (bridge) the public Wi-Fi. I asked them very, very early in the company-wide decision to provide public Wi-Fi to the area. None of the techs that I called knew about it, all swore up and down that there was no public Wi-Fi coming out of my modem. Also, none of them knew how to turn it off; when I finally got someone to agree to do it, I lost all web access and had to call again!

At the time, my argument was that I wanted to reduce EMF in my own house, so I could live a little better; I said that I used hard-wired connectivity inside the house anyway, did NOT want Wi-Fi in the house, even, so I for sure didn't want it broadcasting outward from the house.

I wonder if that customer request on my record will prevent pushed upgrades to make Wi-Fi publicly available anyway and I have to call back. So far, my son reports that there isn't any public Wi-Fi in our neighborhood.

Posted by:

05 May 2015

If they are going to start doing that, they should provide the modem/router free of charge.

Posted by:

05 May 2015

My "improved" router came free from Cablevision, but they did not volunteer any info about the public hotspot feature. I refused to install it and they eventually sent a postage sticker to get it back.

Aside from power consumption and possible security issues, there is just the sneaky way it was done. If a telco wanted to erect a cell tower on my property, they would have to negotiate a lease and pay rent. What gives a cable company the right to use my property to set up their network wifi without consent or compensation?

Posted by:

Mark Roy
06 May 2015

Anyone who has done any research on the income tax will tell you that at the inception the argument was that the income tax would be a minimal burden to the people as it only amounted to 1%. Today, people work until late April or early May to reach "Tax Liberation" day and bear the burden of Federal, State and local taxes. Operating systems have grown from consuming a few 100K of RAM, to a few 100MB to now gigabytes of RAM. Feature creep in and demand for WiFi will certainly grow too. If this is such a valuable commodity, let the providers pay for and provide securely and physically separate from the wired customer the delivery of the service and charge accordingly. What's next? The post offive dumping mail at my house and asking me to bring it to work since ".. you're going there anyway."

Posted by:

06 May 2015

I live in a neighborhood.
My WIFI range is about 300 feet
I don't see how anyone can piggyback on me
Is there a flaw in my thinking?

Posted by:

Bruce Butterfield
06 May 2015

As a practical matter, our usually reliable electric service has had three accident or animal-related outages recently.

I wonder how a comm company would like to have busted service complaints from users of a wifi spot based on my system.

Posted by:

07 May 2015

Every once in a while I have to use WIFI in order to get a spreadsheet off my computer to my Windows phone, so if the Comcast WIFI worked for the homeowner as well as neighbors then it'd beat going to McDonalds.

Posted by:

Michael K. Bonner
08 May 2015

The trend in this country seems to be to tell consumers they can BUY equipment, but they don't really own it, they're just using it !
All they are really saying is that you can use it, but if we find a better way to make more money, You have nothing to say about it !!!

Posted by:

12 May 2015

Thank you, Mr. Rankin!
I actually utilized the information you provided in this topic to school someone that became paranoid about such WiFi hotspots!

Posted by:

John Navas
29 May 2015

Serious technical error:
Cable MODEM does NOT share.
Sharing culprit is Cable GATEWAY.
And it's a HUGE SECURITY AND PRIVACY ISSUE. (To claim otherwise is disingenuous and/or dangerously naive.)
Simple solution is to NEVER ever use a GATEWAY from an Internet Service Provider. Instead, ALWAYS use a pure Cable MODEM (e.g., Motorola SB6141) and your own wireless router!

Posted by:

Michael Moseley
01 Oct 2015

I'm very concerned about sharing my wi-fi because I'm afraid it will slow my computer. I live out in the sticks and I am almost too far from the telephone server now and sometimes my speed is very erratic.

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