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Wireless Networking The Internet

Comcast Converting 50,000 Houston Home Routers Into Public WiFi Hotspots 474

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-what-you-never-wanted dept.
New submitter green453 writes: 'As a Houston resident with limited home broadband options, I found the following interesting: Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle reports (warning: paywalled) that Comcast plans to turn 50,000 home routers into public Wi-Fi hotspots without their users providing consent. Comcast plans to eventually convert 150,000 home routers into a city-wide WiFi network. A similar post (with no paywall) by the same author on the SeattlePI Tech Blog explains the change. From the post on SeattlePI: "What's interesting about this move is that, by default, the feature is being turned on without its subscribers' prior consent. It's an opt-out system – you have to take action to not participate. Comcast spokesman Michael Bybee said on Monday that notices about the hotspot feature were mailed to customers a few weeks ago, and email notifications will go out after it's turned on. But it's a good bet that this will take many Comcast customers by surprise."' This follows similar efforts in Chicago and the Twin Cities.
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Comcast Converting 50,000 Houston Home Routers Into Public WiFi Hotspots

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  • Liability (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @01:57PM (#47204563)

    So does this mean that charges for copyright infringement (or other such activities) will no longer be brought against people based on IP Address evidence alone? Because this certainly gives a lot of people a lot of plausible deniability.

    Secondly, how are the clients being compensated for the hotspot service they are now providing?

    • Liability (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:06PM (#47204665)

      My guess is that you'll be compensated by having access to a city-wide wifi hotspot.

    • Yes, this is a shitty thing to do, but, Comcast is a shitty company, so no surprise there. But there is a simple answer. Turn it off. If you don't know how, do a little research and figure out how. If you can't be bothered to expend a little mental energy, then it must not be much of a problem.

      • by Wycliffe (116160)

        Yes, this is a shitty thing to do

        Why is this such a bad thing? Everyone already knows that ISPs oversell their bandwidth. As long as you still
        get the speed you are paying for why should you care if someone else is using your wifi anymore than you care
        if your neighbor is also a comcast subscriber. I doubt it increases your electricity cost and you get the benefit of
        using other people's wifi when you are out and about. This seems like a win-win for everyone. I don't see the problem
        if it's done correctly especially as you have multiple ways

        • by nigelo (30096)

          As long as you still get the speed you are paying for... ...if it's done correctly especially as you have multiple ways to opt out.

          Three big "ifs" there: if you get the speed you are paying for, if done correctly, (if) you have multiple(?) ways to opt out.

        • by tompaulco (629533)
          Opting out should never be considered a reasonable mechanism for not being in a subscription group unless you have first opted in.
          • by wbr1 (2538558) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @03:33PM (#47205661)

            Opting out should never be considered a reasonable mechanism for not being in a subscription group unless you have first opted in.

            Why are you poking me?????

            Because! You are in my new hourly poke subscription! It is free and fun! If you prefer you can opt-out by simply filling out this paperwork.

            Oh... we are sorry to see you go. But rejoice! By opting out of the pok of the hour group you have been automatically subscribed to the 15 minute nipple pinch! (opt out instructions below.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Jason Levine (196982)

          As long as you still get the speed you are paying for why should you care if someone else is using your wifi anymore than you care if your neighbor is also a comcast subscriber.

          Because someone might attach to your Wi-fi and share something in a manner that infringes copyright. Then, the MPAA/RIAA will come after you.

          Note, I completely agree that targeting people based on IP address is idiotic, but you would be the person who would either need to spend the time/money to fight this lawsuit or would need to s

          • Re:Liability (Score:5, Informative)

            by nairnr (314138) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @03:37PM (#47205699)

            As long as you still get the speed you are paying for why should you care if someone else is using your wifi anymore than you care if your neighbor is also a comcast subscriber.

            Because someone might attach to your Wi-fi and share something in a manner that infringes copyright. Then, the MPAA/RIAA will come after you.

            Note, I completely agree that targeting people based on IP address is idiotic, but you would be the person who would either need to spend the time/money to fight this lawsuit or would need to settle with them (likely agreeing that you did the crime) to make it go away.

            On the upside, it could add more dents into the "this IP address proves it was that person" claims of the MPAA/RIAA, but who would want to volunteer for this expense? Or, more accurately, who would want Comcast to volunteer them for this expense unless they go through technological measures to opt out?

            You obviously didn't read the article. They are using the wifi and completely segregating traffic. It appears with a distiinct SSID and on a different IP. The capacity is on a different channel, so gain the host user isn't affected.

      • by jythie (914043)
        Gotta love antenna that can be physically unscrewed and removed.
    • Re:Liability (Score:5, Informative)

      by ottawanker (597020) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:30PM (#47204983) Homepage

      I'm assuming their modems/routers have a way of provisioning a second IP address so that the wifi hotspot doesn't get you in legal trouble (or steal your bandwidth).

      • I'm assuming their modems/routers have a way of provisioning a second IP address so that the wifi hotspot doesn't get you in legal trouble (or steal your bandwidth).

        If that is the case does that mean I just have to change my mac address and connect to the public wifi rather than my normal ssid, and I can torrent everything I want and not worry about getting hit by a copyright infringement law suite.

      • still eats up CPU and Wifi Spectrum and cable node space.

    • by lart2150 (724284)
      The public hotspot has a different public ip address from the subscriber's public ip address.
    • Re:Liability (Score:5, Informative)

      by freeze128 (544774) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @03:22PM (#47205537)
      Here are some facts:

      - Public wireless users will be using a different IP address from the LAN/internal wireless users.
      - In order to use the "Public" wireless hotspot, you will need to already have a Comcast username and password. It's not OPEN wifi, but open to other Comcast subscribers.
      - "Public" wifi bandwidth will not affect the bandwidth of the home router (so says Comcast).
      • by NoKaOi (1415755)

        - "Public" wifi bandwidth will not affect the bandwidth of the home router (so says Comcast).

        Comcast also tells customers it delivers X Mbps of bandwidth. While some lucky customers in certain areas do get that, a vast majority don't. So, it might not affect what they call the maximum bandwidth, but for a majority of users it will affect their actual bandwidth.

  • What makes me think this is not Public WiFi? You're going to have to pay to use it.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:00PM (#47204593)

    This is about making some congressman or senator happy. They must have agreed somewhere to offer free wifi or something for cities in return for maintaining their monopolies. And this is how they're delivering.

    On the backs of their stupid customers.

    Seriously... if you have comcast... cancel them now.

  • Credential phising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by psergiu (67614) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:00PM (#47204605)

    How long before someone releases a tool that would have a Linux-running computer or device with a WiFi card masquerading as an official Comcast WiFi hotspot an collecting the usernames & passwords of the users trying to connect ?

    • by alen (225700)

      that would be an awesome way to get free ESPN, Disney Jr and other streamed TV access

  • by wiredog (43288) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:02PM (#47204619) Journal

    The real problem here is people logging on to "comcast wifi" or whatever it's called using the same credentials they use to log on to their ISP account. How hard will it be for nogoodniks to set up hotspots called "comcast wifi" (or whatever) and scoop up all the credentials?

    Here in NoVa Cox is doing the same thing.

    • How hard will it be for nogoodniks to set up hotspots called "comcast wifi" (or whatever) and scoop up all the credentials?

      What makes you think they have not already done it? BTW nogoodniks is not how you spell NSA.

  • thousands of wifi routers providing free service. i might have to go back to a dumb phone and just carry around a small tablet everywhere i go. why pay extortion prices for cell data when wifi will be literally everywhere

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      thousands of wifi routers providing free service.

      Except, there is no 'free'. You have to be a Comcast subscriber to use this.

      So, they're offering a 'free' service to people who are paying an additional fee on top of their existing service to access this 'free' service.

      And they're using the gear in people's houses (and possibly some of their available bandwidth) to do it.

    • by Njovich (553857) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:22PM (#47204889)

      We have this stuff here in Netherlands at one of the biggest providers (Ziggo). It seemed great to me at first, but turned out pretty much useless.

      The problem is, these are home routers inside homes, this means they are low powered, not at ideal locations (not many homes in the mall, highway, train, etc), and also inside usually thick walls that stop a lot of the signal. It's just a frustrating experience, with your phone often falling in and out of connection and such. The 4G network gives a much better experience.

      • by kalpol (714519)
        I have relatives in the Netherlands and the houses over there are built much more sturdily than the usual stick-built home in the US which doesn't have much structure to block wi-fi signals. However even in my thin-walled house the signal from my router barely reaches to the end of my back garden, so I expect anyone who would want to use it would have to stand on the street directly in front of my house.
  • This is why I don't use ISP provided equipment. I have my own cable modem (which is just a "basic" model without router functionality), and my "router" is a custom built Linux box (it handles the wifi as well with hostapd).
    • In my parts comcast charged 6 bucks a month, when I can go down to staples and buy a fairly good cable modem for 60 bucks that will last for years. Frankly trusting your cable co to be in charge of your wifi and firewall seems like a bad idea. It gets worse they ship these garbage routers to business setups and will insist they can not just bridge until pressed hard.

      • Yep. I actually don't have Comcast...I had Insight, which was then bought out by Time Warner (service has improved dramatically since TW took over by the way). The modem that was originally provided me was garbage and didn't support any of the higher speeds. Although, when it was Insight, it didn't matter, because they neglected the network for years until TW took over (the fastest speed available was 10mbit until the TW takeover, it took them a year but it's 50mbit now). I just went and bought a Motoro
  • by Thruen (753567) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:19PM (#47204849)
    First, they charged me for the connection to my house at a certain speed. Then, they throttled everything I'd want that speed for. Then, they charged Netflix for the connection to my house. Now, they're offering the connection to my house to other customers when it already can't keep up with my needs or come close to their advertised speeds. What am I even paying for? The joy of twice monthly hour long phone calls to resolve outages?

    I bet they'll count this as "upgrading their infrastructure," just another fine example of the innovation they claim will come to an end if ISPs are better regulated.
  • Ok, I'm generally on the side of the ISPs (I work for one) but this is nuts.

    On another note, I totally want this. It immunizes you from DMCA letters.
    "Sorry Comcast, I'm not pirating movies. It could have been anyone!"

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      It's not the DMCA letters you need to worry about.

      It's the copyright trolls and law enforcement people.

      Because when you get served with a copyright infringement suit for downloading thousands of videos, or get hauled off to jail because your location was used for something illegal ... that's where the real problems begin.

      Unless we're meant to believe that this will in no way trace back to the home-owner, and be a completely air-gapped and firewalled thing. And, I must say, I'm skeptical of that.

      Because, r

      • by uncqual (836337)

        If Comcast assigns a different IP address to wireless users than to the hosting wired user, there wouldn't be any confusion over if the wired user or a wireless user downloaded evil files.

        Unless Comcast assigns a unique IP address to each wireless user (which I suspect they won't on IPV4) sorting out which, of possibly many, wireless users connected at the time of the download may require more tracking -- which I suspect Comcast will do.

    • by ArhcAngel (247594)

      Ok, I'm generally on the side of the ISPs (I work for one) but this is nuts.

      On another note, I totally want this. It immunizes you from DMCA letters. "Sorry Comcast, I'm not pirating movies. It could have been anyone!"

      You missed the part where you have to log in using your Comcast account to access them.

      • No I didn't. Who said I'd use MY account?
        You basically have a giant brute force target sitting there city wide.

  • So other comcast customers can stroll through and leech my bandwidth, that I pay for? Good thing I don't use a comcast wifi router.
  • by rlp (11898)

    As a relatively pleased Time-Warner customer I am sooooo looking forward to Comcast acquiring TW.

  • An idle router will surely use less electricity.
  • How long until someone presents them with a bill for the electricity use? It ain't free you know.
    • by uncqual (836337)

      Opt out (and, presumably, that also opts you out of accessing the Comcast WiFi 'network').

  • while it may not have the exact same content as the paywalled link, it does provide information about it http://blog.chron.com/techblog... [chron.com]
  • by ArhcAngel (247594)
    Sounds like what FON [fon.com] has been doing for years except on an opt-in basis.
  • by geeper (883542) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @02:39PM (#47205111)
    I gave the CC built in WiFi a shot but it's horrible coverage and firmware (features) turned me away. I did a live chat and had them turn the WiFi off and they did it immediately, that way I could just use my own. It comes back on automatically about every 6 months (I'm assuming because of some upgrade) and I just live chat with them and have them turn it off. It has a big bright light when it's on so it's easy to tell. If this happens to me (near Houston), I'll just contact them again.
  • by thygate (1590197) on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @03:06PM (#47205375)
    Cable broadband provider Telenet in Belgium did the same thing. When my old DOCSIS 2 modem died, they gave me (without any options) one of their all-in-one fancy new 'modems', with built in router with private + public wifi. To manage my modem settings i had to go to their webpage to change MY modem/router/lan/wifi settings, which would then be pushed to my modem locally. So if they're site is down (which happens quite regularly imo, for 'maintenance'), i can't manage my own LAN ! Heaven forbid if someone ever finds an exploit in those modems, all of their customers' LAN's will be compromised. I re-disabled the public wifi several times, after it got mysteriously re-enabled. Forget about calling support, you always get brain dead morons that won't deviate from their silly 'please reboot your modem' flowchart even though you can provide perfect logical reasoning to locate the problem. Power users are a nuisance to them. Repeated calls to support to ask for a normal modem as a consumer were all fruitless. I later played my cards different with the business support desk (as a business owner) and with some social engineering was able to get someone to give permission(!) for me to get a normal modem at my local telenet supplier. I have since installed this modem with behind it a router running custom firmware, where I control my LAN & WIFI. Speeds even more than doubled too ! As of last year Liberty Global own a 57.8% stake in Telenet. A USA telecommunications and television company that is buying up broadband providers worldwide. With recent revelations this is also worrisome, but we don't have another choice for cable provider. Stay vigilant people, and demand what you have the rights to !
  • by rew (6140) <r.e.wolff@BitWizard.nl> on Tuesday June 10, 2014 @04:58PM (#47206383) Homepage

    Here in holland and across europe the same is being done. The thing is, technically, many homes are hooked up with a line physically capable of say 20mpbs, but with only a 10mbps subscription. The extra bandwidth can be alotted to "guest users".

    Similarly, even if someone has a 20(or more) mbps subscription on a 20mbps line, he/she won't be using all of it all of the time. So you can again use part of the bandwidth for guests. In this case it would be fair to give the original subscriber priority to use whatever he/she wants, and put the guests at a lower priority.

    Oh, security wise they also separate the original subscriber from the guests.

    I have the impression they do this "sensibly": the subscribers don't really have a valid reason to be upset about it.

    And the thing is: If you're a subscriber, suddenly there are hundreds or thousands of places where you won't be using your 3G datalink but a wifi hotspot. Faster, cheaper!

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