Are You Sharing Your Wifi?
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.
“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...
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 5 May 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are You Sharing Your Wifi? (Posted: 5 May 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved