As if Comcast couldn’t get even more evil, they just have. The company is turning people’s home routers and internet connections (that they pay for) into public Wi-Fi hotspots for their customers. One might ask, why would an ISP be doing such a thing in an age where we already have fantastic 3G and 4G coverage on most carriers in the US? Well, its all part of Comcast’s evil new plan to compete with the wireless carriers and deploy their own wireless service using Wi-Fi, something akin to what RePublic wireless is doing with their most basic plan.
However, Comcast has quietly built this feature into their routers and has made it an opt-out program rather than an opt-in one (because who in their right mind would opt-in?). When plans for this service were initially discussed, there was talk that they would utilize their Wi-Fi networks to enable them to essentially run a competitor to Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. They have already tested roll outs of this public Wi-Fi in cities like Chicago and The Twin Cities and have been running these in addition to a 100,000 user test in New Jersey for the past year or so. Comcast already claims 1 million free Wi-Fi hotspots for their customers and would eventually roll it out to all of their internet customers, much like their dreaded data caps.
Their latest test includes a 150,000 deployment in Houston, where users are discovering that their comcast routers are becoming Wi-Fi hotspots. Initially, I expected Comcast to monetarily incentivize customers to enable this feature for Comcast’s benefit if they wanted to roll out their Wi-Fi based mobile network, but I guess they figured they could get away with doing it for free.
What makes this all the more interesting is that Comcast is constantly claiming that they have to charge the prices they do because they need to be able to pay for the bandwidth on their network. Yet, they’re clearly giving away bandwidth for free on the very same lines that their customers are paying for and probably getting less service than they should be (in terms of speed, and probably uptime, too). Sure, Comcast will probably be more concerned about the uptime of users’ routers if an entire wireless service depends on it, but I just don’t see how Comcast can justify this without allowing customers to know its happening or at least giving them a discount on their service for doing so. Also, if you use your own router and modem, this service won’t work so you can always be sure to opt out of it that way.
However, the thing that concerns me most about this whole ordeal is what the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger could mean for Comcast’s plans for such a network. The combined company would have tens of millions of internet customers (31 million at the end of 2013, to be exact) and would effectively be able to run an entire nationwide Wi-Fi network purely off of customers’ own wireless routers and the public Wi-Fi that they provide. There are also questions about how secure such a feature would be and whether or not a free public Wi-Fi would be an invitation for people to attack individual people’s routers to try to access their network. Currently they operate on separate radios, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have vulnerabilities. In the end, the roll out of this service just makes me more weary (as a Time Warner Cable internet customer) of what Comcast is trying to do.