The purpose of my blog has always been to deliver on one goal; helping you get the safety, security and privacy information you need to make clear, informed choices about protecting yourselves and your families online.
So in an unusual step, I want to address the great deal of concern consumers have about Comcast’s choice to turn their customer’s home modems into public WiFi hotspots. While this behavior has been going on for some time, it was only last week that Comcast went past a ‘beta’ phase and formally announced it was turning “50,000 paying customer homes into public hotspots” in the Houston area, and “the company says it’ll be in millions of homes across the country by the end of the year.”
While some users are excited at the idea that wherever they are there is likely to be a hotspot available to them, others have real concerns about the security, privacy, cost, and bandwidth availability of this move. And for good reason.
The lack of consumer choice is disrespectful. Rather than allowing customers to opt into opening their homes to becoming hotspots, they are unilaterally making homes into hotspots and forcing customers to figure out how to opt out of this sharing if they don’t want to be a commercial hub for Comcast.
Customers have long been told there are bandwidth restraints that require throttling the speed in which you can download content. Now, Comcast is telling customers that having up to five additional users (as will be permitted by Comcast when they turn a home into a public hotspot) leveraging their network will not slow the home owner’s bandwidth.
There either are bandwidth issues or there aren’t. The position of saying there are bandwidth issues for you, but not if there are up to five additional users of your bandwidth, doesn’t pass the sniff test. As ExtremeTech.com described it:
“The more curious bit is Comcast’s assertion that this public hotspot won’t slow down your residential connection — i.e. if you’re paying for 150Mbps of download bandwidth through the Extreme 150 package, you will still get 150Mbps, even if you have five people creepily parked up outside leeching free WiFi. This leads to an interesting question: If Xfinity hotspot users aren’t using your 150Mbps of bandwidth, whose bandwidth are they using?”
Customer privacy and personal security may be impacted. Comcast has created and released an Xfinity WiFi app allowing subscribers to find hotspots that are nearby. If your home’s modem has been turned into a hotspot for others, Comcast will show it on their map.
Then there is the question of cost. Of course it makes financial sense to Comcast, but what about the financial burden added onto their customers? It’s their customers who get stuck paying for the electric bill associated with other’s freeloading on their network. It’s their customers who get stuck paying for the location of Comcast’s modems – as they ‘host’ these hotspots in their homes. Customers are stuck with the cost of renting the Comcast modems that will be used by others. Customers are stuck with the hookup fees – the costs of potentially needing to run the fiber connection from the junction box on the street into their homes. If it doesn’t sound reasonable to you, it’s because it isn’t.
Comcast customers don’t have to accept the new role being thrust upon them as a public WiFi service provider. At the very least you can discover how to opt out of being used in this fashion – see how to disable the WiFi hotspot feature @ http://customer.comcast.com/ and click on the “Users & Preferences” section, or you can switch to providers that are more respectful of their customers.