Article by Becky Errico | 627 words
People aren’t too thrilled that Xfinity, the cable division of Comcast, has turned their private router into public hotspot without permission. Many restaurants, hotels and other businesses offer free wifi as provided through wireless routers. These public networks are far from secure, but many people like them for the convenient Internet connection they provide.
Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot Project
In June 2013, Xfinity began building a wireless wi-fi network for its consumers that would be accessible nationwide. As of mid-2014, there were live hotspots across the East Coast and Midwest as it continued to grow, according to PCWorld.com. Comcast wanted to compete against other systems offered by companies like Verizon and AT&T.
The free wi-fi network was created by linking together wireless connections from the routers that were already in customers’ homes. It’s likely you’ll be able to find an Comcast hotpot near you. According to Xfinity, the routers, especially the newer routers, have multiple connections for their Wi-Fi. There is the protected home Wi-Fi and the separate free hotspot. Xfinity customers log on by typing in their username or email address along with their password. It’s a free service that is added to a customer’s Internet package.
The Lawsuit against Comcast Hotspots
Customer awareness of the free wifi was very limited, it seems, until recently when the company and product faced heavy criticism. At the end of last year, two plaintiffs from Pittsburgh filed a class-action lawsuit against Comcast in California, as NetworkWorld.com states. The lawsuit focuses on the many ways the hotspots could be bad news for the consumers.
The plaintiffs claim that Comcast didn’t get the customers’ permission to use their routers as public hotspots. And by not letting customers know what was going on, Comcast is responsible for the other claims in the lawsuit. One of those claims is that the routers use more electricity to support both the personal and open wireless connections. This could raise the customers’ electric bills. As RT.com notes, the plaintiffs claim that the free wi-fi slows down the private connection speed.
The other part of the lawsuit raises concerns over the users’ privacy. The lawsuit claims that the private wireless connections could be at risk. With both connections going through the same router, the private connection could be more vulnerable. This could put private information at risk, the plaintiffs claim. Comcast’s response, as shared on PCWorld.com, is not so reassuring. It stresses the need for strong passwords and other protective measures.
The lawsuit brings up another important question: What IP address do the routers use? The worry in the lawsuit is that the free wi-fi traffic would have the same IP address as the private account. This would mean that if illegal activity were tracked back to the router, the owner of the private IP address could be blamed. However, according to PC World, Comcast is assuring customers that they won’t be held responsible for what hotspot users do.
How to Opt-Out of Providing a Comcast Hotspot
There are two options for those that would rather do without the free wifi, as PC World explains. One, a customer can buy their own router and return the one that they are renting from the company. Two, there is an opt-out option. Customers can go online and learn how to stop the hotspot connection. The fact that users automatically have the free wifi in their homes unless they opt out goes back to the roots of the lawsuit. It goes back to the consumers not being told when Comcast started testing the hotspots in different areas.
The lawsuit is ongoing, but Comcast is still moving forward with its hotspots, hoping to cover more of the nation. The goal of the lawsuit, however, is to shut down the hotspots altogether. In an age when Internet users are becoming more concerned about their privacy, it will be interesting to see how this legal battle pans out. While Comcast customer service has been improved in recent years, these wifi hotspots may have been a step in the wrong direction.
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