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Comcast To Expand Public WiFi Using Home Internet Connections 203

Posted by samzenpus
from the share-the-wealth dept.
Bob the Super Hamste writes "The St. Paul Pioneer press is reporting that Comcast is planning on expanding its network of public WiFi hot spots in the Twin Cities area by using home internet connections and user's WiFi routers. Customers will be upgraded to new wireless routers that will have 2 wireless networks, one for the home users and one for the general public. Subscribers to Comcast's Xfinity service and customers that participate in the public WiFi program will be allowed free access to the public WiFi offered by this service. Non Comcast customers get 2 free sessions a month each lasting 1 hour with additional sessions costing money. The article mentions that a similar service already exists and is provided by the Spain-based company Fon."
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Comcast To Expand Public WiFi Using Home Internet Connections

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  • BT also does this (Score:5, Informative)

    by richard.cs (1062366) on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:22PM (#44034333) Homepage
    In the UK BT does this. Their customers can use any of the hotspots for free and everyone else has to pay, no free hour.
    • Same thing in Belgium with Telenet. Works quite well. You can close the extra channel if you want, but then they also revoke your access to other people's base stations. You only get access if you also provide access yourself. Which doesn't cost you anything except maybe a tiny bit of electricity.

  • How about no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:24PM (#44034353)
    Does no work for you?

    Many, many issues abound here. How secure is the separation between the two networks? What protections do I have in case of someone using my connection maliciously? How will this affect my total bandwidth and speed?
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:27PM (#44034375) Homepage Journal

      I beg your pardon, but it looks awfully like you're currently trusting your ISP's router. Are you sure that you are entirely sane?

      • Put your own router between you and it.

        Personally, I like this idea.

        • by tattood (855883)
          What does this solve? Your traffic still goes through the ISP router after it goes through your router. Your solution only solves one of the 3 questions asked by GP.
    • Many, many issues abound here. How secure is the separation between the two networks? What protections do I have in case of someone using my connection maliciously? How will this affect my total bandwidth and speed?

      In the UK, it's voluntary, and it's your payment for being able to use free WiFi everywhere. How secure is it? Well, your WiFi is broadcasting anyway, so how secure do you think _that_ is? If someone uses your connection maliciously - can you think of a better alibi? Yes, your WiFi is used, and your Internet bandwidth is used.

      • Re:How about no (Score:4, Informative)

        by mrbester (200927) on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:47PM (#44034491) Homepage

        In addition there is QoS running so the internal network NIC has priority over the open one.

        • by KGIII (973947)

          Thank you. I was scrolling through hoping someone had answered that. I can't imagine they'll offer *me* anything like this service/feature but it's a question that I had concerning this. I'd be worried (assuming I lived somewhere that this is possible) that there would be people using my 'net and slowing it down. That is, well, if I were in an area where I'd be invited to make use of this feature. Here? You'd have to drive a long ways down the road, a long ways up my driveway, and then you could connect. An

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      It you had RTFA they addressed all of your questions already.

    • Re:How about no (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday June 17, 2013 @07:12PM (#44034645)

      "Does no work for you?"

      Yes, "no" works for me, but for completely different reasons.

      I already do this, using my own cable adapter and my own router. And it is free for my neighbors and passersby to use. No charges from Comcast or anybody else. I do it as a free public service.

      And you have NO LEGAL LIABILITY for strangers using your Wi-Fi to perform illegal acts without your permission. Any more than an "internet cafe" does. People use it as they please, and they are responsible for their own actions. There have been many, many court cases over this by now.

      Think about it. If somebody came into your yard without explicit permission, grabbed your lawn de-thatching tool, and hit somebody over the head with it, would you be "liable" for murder? Hell, no. Nor are you liable, generally speaking, if you (legally) loan someone your gun and they shoot somebody with it. Unless of course you knew their intent ahead of time and loaned it to them specifically for doing that. But we're talking here about somebody doing something without your foreknowledge.

      So why should a router be any different? (Hint: it isn't.)

      By the way: the EFF recommends doing this [eff.org] as a courtesy to your neighbors and the public, and assures you that there is no liability.

      Again generally speaking, about the only time you are liable for someone's unauthorized use of your tools is when it is an automobile, and even that law is on pretty shaky legal ground.

      • Re:How about no (Score:4, Informative)

        by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday June 17, 2013 @07:14PM (#44034663)
        I should also add that the DMCA has a specific safe-harbor provision that protects providers of an internet service from liability for what users do with it. There is nothing in the law saying the service has to be commercial or for-profit. So your ass is covered.
        • Has this been tested in court?

          If not, then, no, your ass is not covered.

          • "Has this been tested in court?"

            Only about a thousand times.

            Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But not much. Big companies like Google (YouTube) rely on that provision all the time.

        • I should also add that the DMCA has a specific safe-harbor provision that protects providers of an internet service from liability for what users do with it.

          That does not protect the users from liability due to the actions of other users. I don't give a crap about Comcast's liability, I care about MINE.

          While it's a moot issue where I live (I'm too remote for public wifi to be useful to anyone else) I doubt I'd sign up for a program like this just due to the potential legal uncertainty. There is a small but non-zero chance of this resulting in problems for me. Plus it chews up bandwidth that I am paying a lot of money for and I get little in return. It's not

      • by icebike (68054)

        I think if your look at your existing TOS this would be spelled out as not allowed, so legal or not, they could drop you if it became obvious.
        Of course, that will disappear from Comcast's agreement once this gets implemented.

        A lot of comcast routers already come set up with a guest account. These are on a separate Vnet, and "can't" access your stuff. (Can't until someone hackes it that is). And, previously, you couldn't access this unless the home owner gave you their guest password.

        Now they are going to

        • "I think if your look at your existing TOS this would be spelled out as not allowed, so legal or not, they could drop you if it became obvious."

          Probably true, but it would likely never "become obvious" unless there were a lawsuit or something.

          "But still you would think they have to affect your bandwidth. And a gamer or downloader of large files might notice. Personally I would seldom be inconvenienced by this unless it started to seriously eat into my speed."

          Where I live, just about everybody has their own routers. The only traffic I have noticed is the occasional passerby, and one neighbor's laptop occasionally connects, presumably because my signal is stronger than the next one over.

          Only once have I caught anybody abusing the service; a girl from across the street was using my open internet to download music. I saw she was doing that from my logs. (I checked

    • Many, many issues abound here. How secure is the separation between the two networks? What protections do I have in case of someone using my connection maliciously? How will this affect my total bandwidth and speed?

      Dutch cable ISP Ziggo does this [ziggo.nl]. There's a separate 10mbps for the public hotspots that doesn't come out of your own capacity. Guests also use a different IP, and of course they have to log in so their usage can be tracked back to their home account.

    • I'm more curious about how they enforce the "two free one-hour sessions". Sounds like it would be possible (although maybe inconvenient) to get unlimited free wifi from this.
    • Funny... I don't remember Comcast reimbursing me for extra electricity that their fancy new public hotspot router is using.

      Given their love of tacking fees to my cable bill, I would have figured that there would be a credit on there somewhere...

  • I mean you're using my house and internet connections to make money from me. I"d expect 50% commission.

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      But don't you also get the service to use for yourself? It seems like a superficially fair trade-off, though, it very well may not be.

      What if this technology leads to the obsolescence of the standard cell-phone plan? Why pay an additional $75/mo (or whatever you pay these days, I haven't had a cell phone in years) when you can just have your own non-cellphone Android device that can piggy back on readily available WiFi to make phone calls and sends texts with VOIP? That's basically what I do now. I have a

      • Out in the burbs they have separate residential and commercial areas. So it's unlikely you will be out and about and get free wifi everywhere

      • by Aryden (1872756)
        In my area, there are maybe 2-3 houses in total using comcast for internet, it's all verizon fios or dsl.
      • Service piggybacked on home wifi without externally mounted access points is going to suck unless you are very close to the house from which is served. Wifi is a pretty short range system as it is and the external walls of the house. I doubt there will be any decent handoff support either and I think it is likely we will see several competing systems.

        So to use it you will have to find a house with a good signal and then stay there while you use it. Like with the old "rabbit phones" but unlike the old rabbit

        • by pspahn (1175617)

          Indeed, fair enough. I was mostly picturing my above post in a world a few years more advanced than the one we live in now.

          Better WiFi (or WiMax, etc) should allow this eventually.

          • Better WiFi (or WiMax, etc) should allow this eventually.

            There are deployments of WiMAX technology, but they've been on licensed spectrum owned by cellular carriers. In any case, if you plan to serve people from a home router, how many handoffs per minute would it take to serve a customer in a bus moving at 30 mph (50 km/h)?

    • by unrtst (777550)

      So the customers get a kick back?

      Yes. The kick back is that you get to use all the other wifi hotspots that are setup the same way by other customers for free (or, as part of your package). It actually seems like a decent little "give some, get a lot back" type of setup, except the part where they allow random users that aren't contributing hotspots to the system (but they do charge them and, at least hypothetically, that could be going towards maintenance/bandwidth/etc**).

      ** no, I'm not naive. This is the part they want to profit off of.

    • You get to use the same service on any other technology-enabled access point on the network, wherever you are.

      BT-FON in the UK is wonderful. I have used WiFi all over the country because my home connection advertised FON capability; Anyone else on BT Internet advertises it by default. I have FTTC; I can afford to lend out a couple of Mb in order to get that kind of service while out and about. I don't mind because where I live is densely residential, so likely nobody would use it. If they do, I've not noti
    • I mean you're using my house and internet connections to make money from me. I"d expect 50% commission.

      Okay we won't double your connection fee

  • easier (Score:5, Funny)

    by Todd Palin (1402501) on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:26PM (#44034367)
    Great idea. My neighbor keeps changing his password. This would be a lot easier.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      Great idea. My neighbor keeps changing his password. This would be a lot easier.

      fonera etc prices for non-sharing participators are.. well, they tend to be fucking expensive. you would get your own cable for far cheaper.

  • And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you buy your own router instead of renting one from the cable provider.

    • That all depends. Don't know about Comcast, but both my local providers, the modem and the router are the same thing. They are a combined device. Not even sure you can get separate ones anymore.
      • Just buy your own modem too; it will save you money in the long run anyway.
      • by bobbied (2522392)

        In my limited experience with the three internet providers that service my home...

        They usually use industry standard equipment that uses industry standard protocols. This means that you can usually purchase your own equipment, it just may take a bit more work on your part because you may need to get them to provision your modem or something.

        Personally, I have *ALL* of my equipment behind a firewall I have provided and control. The ISP's equipment is usually cheap throwaway junk anyway, so I try not to

      • by edjs (1043612)

        Typically the modem/router combo devices can be configured to act as a bridge only, though you may have to ask the cableco to enable it.

      • by NemosomeN (670035)
        Even if you can't get separate ones, you can disable the router part and use the modem as a bridge. I have a combo modem/router from my provider, and I disabled the router part to use my own.
      • by Arker (91948)

        You can certainly get separate ones, there are tons of models available. Why do people think they have to use what the ISP provides? The ISP shouldnt be providing anything past provisioning the modem, they dont want to be, and when customers demand otherwise they get the cheapest box to setup and administer that the ISP can possibly find. If you are remotely technical you should just buy yourself a decent modem and router and set them up and administer them yourself. All you need the ISP to do is provision

      • Comcast gives you a choice between renting a combo modem/router, a modem only, or providing your own modem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:28PM (#44034381)

    So Comcast is selling people bandwidth and then reselling that bandwidth through the customers location? Reselling that bandwidth using customers electricity?

    Thank you, no thanks.

    • by icebike (68054)

      That pretty much sums it up.

      In a down-town area or any dense residential apartment situation a comcast user might find this appealing because they could roam all over the neighborhood and stay on wifi. But chances are, that is exactly the sort of situation where participation could cripple the homeowners use of their own connection.

      TFA says this:

      Service degradation. Those using the slower public portion of a home router typically won't degrade performance on the faster private side. Future routers would speed up public access when the private side isn't being used and give the private network priority if required.

      But If I sign up for service just adequate to meet my needs any additional load (even if slower) is going to be felt.

      And if you happen to have an apartment next to

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        But If I sign up for service just adequate to meet my needs any additional load (even if slower) is going to be felt.

        Virtually no cable providers are selling the amount of service that their equipment can provide. There is headroom.

        And if you happen to have an apartment next to a bar or popular restaurant you can expect your router to be busy all day with the overload of connecting and disconnecting smartphones and people soaking up your bandwidth.

        Oh noes! It will have to handle packets!

  • Wi-Fi Crowding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SIGBUS (8236) on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:32PM (#44034403) Homepage

    Aside from the trust issues mentioned elsewhere, the other thing I don't like about this is that it'll flood the neighborhood with even more 2.4 GHz clutter.

    5 GHz is not a panacea; it's astonishingly poor at penetrating walls, to the point that I treat my 5 GHz AP as only useful in the same room.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      it'll flood the neighborhood with even more 2.4 GHz clutter.

      Lucky for you, it really won't. This is just a matter of having multiple SSIDs on the same wireless radio. Some home APs have "guest network" settings, and open firmware like OpenWRT gives you free-reign to create as many SSIDs and networks as you want, just like ethernet sub-interfaces, or perhaps more like VLANs. It's still only got the one radio, using just the one radio channel you were already using. But it's broadcasting two SSIDs, and th

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        It's still only got the one radio, using just the one radio channel you were already using.

        That's the problem. It very well may be using the channel I'm already using. (Actually, two that I'm already using when I turn on my second AP.) Since I can't control which one it uses, it may very well bounce around as Comcast sees fit to bounce their digital channels around. What's to stop it from landing smack on top of the wireless channel(s) I'm already using?

        I'm not sure I would want any enticement for people to stand around outside my house browsing the web. Move along, people. Nothing to see here.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          What's to stop it from landing smack on top of the wireless channel(s) I'm already using?

          Sounds like you didn't comprehend a word of my previous post...

          Most people use the wireless AP their ISP gives them. If you are, too, it won't be "landing on top of the wireless channel", it WILL BE the wireless channel you are using. To grand guest access, it will merely broadcast another SSID over your existing channel. No extra channels needed. No possibility of conflicts.

    • Just started using 5 GHz myself. Works great here.

      Note: This may have something to do with the fact that mine appears to the be only 5 GHz AP anywhere in the building. (Thank you, Telenor and ComHem!) Or not.

  • "Wi-Fi wants to be free. And a growing number of companies and nonprofits are aggressively expanding the definition of "free Wi-Fi." This has primarily involved ..."
    Charging ignorant saps for things they could configure themselves for free.
    • by Todd Knarr (15451)

      Not quite. Sure I could enable this on my router, it's got guest network capability. But it'd eat my bandwidth, and it'd point back to me as the subscriber responsible for the access point. With the ISP doing it, though, the guest network wouldn't count towards my bandwidth and it'd be the ISP, not me, responsible for any abuse of the guest network since it's them offering access through it, not me. That's all stuff I can't do myself for free.

  • BT in the UK (Score:2, Informative)

    by jisatsusha (755173)
    BT already does this in the UK. By default, it's enabled for all customers, but you can disable it. it's called BT Fon. Basically BT customers who opt-in get to use internet through any other customer's wifi for free, other people can pay to use it otherwise.

    http://www.btfon.com/ [btfon.com]
  • From the article:

    Legal liability. Those who fear being blamed for misuse of their public Wi-Fi signals are said to be protected under a "safe harbor" doctrine akin to that protecting Internet service providers. In other words, they're likely not liable for the mischief of porn purveyors or music pirates.

    So when I'm doing all sorts of legal stuff I stay on my private network, and then when I want to switch over to download illegal content, I just switch over to the free comcast network and I'm all set?

    • Comcast is part of the whole scheme to punish you if you get 6 strikes against you by the movie/music mafia. $30 to dispute your assumed guilty verdict - this only means that they won't punish you for what somebody does on your 2nd open wifi connection.

    • by edelbrp (62429) on Monday June 17, 2013 @10:50PM (#44036095)

      You aren't liable for *somebody else's* illegal activity on your modem.

      You certainly are for your own and remember you have to authenticate if you want to use more than two sessions per month. Being that it is a public network, I imagine all net neutrality goes out the window. They might only allow two services: web and email, and all packet poking/peeking is fair game.

      If they find lots of illegal activity coming through your modem the police wouldn't flinch to issue a search warrant at your front door. But, don't worry if it wasn't you. It will be you spouse, child, roommate, etc. who will go to jail after the police haul all the computer equipment in your home away as evidence.

  • You can opt out and it only applies to Comcast rented equipment. There are two benefits, the obvious being more widespread WiFi availability and those who openly want to share their network with neighbors (as a family member of mine does) can have increased security by locking their own network while still having the public one available. It would be nice if Comcast gave participants a $5 monthly discount or something for participating, but I don't see that happening.

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:02PM (#44035101)

    so you want me to host their equipment, maintain their equipment, protect their equipment, power their equipment, and house their equipment, all while they profit from that equipment and don't pay me any rent? Really? That's the plan? Free real estate? Even worse, I'm paying them for their service that I do use?

    No.

    Oh wait, do I get to monitor the traffic, and sell whatever I find? Or are they the only ones who can do that?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      so you want me to host their equipment, maintain their equipment, protect their equipment, power their equipment, and house their equipment

      We're talking about the cable company. They already own the equipment, so nothing is changing. Nice attempt at relevance, but you missed the mark.

      • by Zof (267674)

        I actually own my cable modem and router, as well pay for the power it uses. Sure, the cable company owns everything upstream of that. If they want to provide public WiFi why not stick an AP on the pole on the road outside my place?

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Obviously they're hoping you'll install a UPS. That's expensive for them to do everywhere.

  • This is THE stupidest idea there has ever been. Unless they assign a modem 2 IPs (oh that's right, we're almost out of those things) then anyone can make you look like you downloaded illegal stuff. Or they can jam up the router's memory by DDOSing it or accidentally by running too many torrents at once. They put pathetic amounts of buffer memory in those. Then someone could hack the router in theory and mess with your side of it. I mean seriously, this is the worst tech idea there has ever been.
    • by edelbrp (62429)

      The article addresses some of those things. They are separate networks and I'm guessing the public one is NATed further upstream. They claim that it will be safe, secure and there's no legal liability if somebody does something bad on the public network through your modem. I think it is a rather clever way to instantly have coverage where high densities of people already are. But, I'd certainly want an opt-out option available as a consumer. Comcast, btw, already firewalls a laundry list of ports (as I

      • by KGIII (973947)

        I'd prefer opt-in instead of opt-out.

        • by edelbrp (62429)

          Me, too, but the problem is nobody would opt-in out of ignorance and a public project with real potential positive results would die out of default.

          • by KGIII (973947)

            That may be true but, well, I accept that the public good may suffer for the individual liberty, it is precisely because of the public wouldn't be aware of this (ignorance) that I would prefer opt-in. I'd expect that the vast majority of customers wouldn't even understand it and enabling it by default would be unfair to them. Let the provider run an education campaign and send mailings with notices.

            I'd compromise with suitable notice being given (and said education campaign) warning that this would be enabl

    • by Zebai (979227)

      A large number of these modems are already provisioned for 2 separate IPv4 addresses and they are fully ipv6 enabled(dual stack Ip4+ip6). The 2nd IPv4 address is used for the telephone service if active as all these gateways are EMTA's. I personally do not like these modems but for different reasons, mainly the firmware is crap and they have frequent problems with the wireless.

  • by manu0601 (2221348) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:53PM (#44035795)
    All major ISP do that in France since they installed triple-play boxes at customers home. The box does cable/DSL access with TV and phone over IP, and is also a WiFi router. Once you have an ISP controlled WiFi installation at each customer house, it is easy to provide the hotspot service.
  • Don't really see an issue with this - unless someone can find out how to hack VLANS, but is that really that much different than someone hacking WEP or WPA? In fact, I would imagine VLAN is much mroe secure - you are running multiple virtual instances on a physical machine - you would have to hack into the physical router for there to be a security issue, which people could pretty much do now if you have things poorly configured.

    If Comcast has a way of distinguishing between what is public and what I am pay

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