Cable Wi-Fi

Comcast Sued Over Home Hotspots

Comcast is facing a class-action lawsuit over its home-based WiFi hotspots.

Two Bay Area residents have filed suit against Comcast over its home hotspots, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The suit charges that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), by configuring in-home routers to offer public hotspot access, is pushing "the costs of its national Wi-Fi network onto its customers." Toyer Grear and daughter Joycelyn Harris are seeking an injunction to prevent the cable operator from continuing the practice and asking for unspecified damages.

Comcast has aggressively expanded its WiFi footprint in recent years, aiming to install 8 million hotspots across the country by the end of the year. The company has also partnered with other operators domestically and abroad to offer shared access to multiple cable-owned WiFi networks. While some of Comcast's hotspots, and those of its partners, are deployed in public areas, many are powered by routers in subscriber homes. Comcast separates private subscriber traffic from guest user activity, but the practice has still generated controversy in part because the hotspot function is turned on as a default setting. (See Comcast, Liberty Global Ink Big WiFi Pact and How Home Hotspots Could Hit Hurdles.)

The new lawsuit makes several claims about how home hotspots are negatively affecting subscribers. Grear and Harris argue that these hotspots put subscriber data at risk, decrease performance levels for customers and could ultimately have a major impact on home electricity bills. The suit cites the third-party company, Speedify, in concluding that power usage will become an issue. Speedify reportedly conducted tests showing that heavy usage of home hotspots could increase the electricity cost of running a cable modem by up to 40%.

Comcast disputes the new charges and instead maintains its position that home hotspots are a boon to subscribers. In a statement, the company said: "We disagree with the allegations in this lawsuit and believe our Xfinity WiFi home hotspot program provides real benefits to our customers."

Responding to complaints that users have had difficulty turning off the default hotspot function, Comcast noted: "We provide information to our customers about the service and how they can easily turn off the public WiFi hotspot if they wish http://wifi.comcast.com/faqs.html."

Meanwhile, as the home hotspot controversy continues, the industry as a whole is working hard to create carrier-class WiFi. Among other things, carrier-class WiFi would improve quality-of-service controls and theoretically make WiFi perform more like mobile broadband. While a massive technical standards effort is underway, it will still take until late 2015 or 2016 before carrier-class WiFi is a reality. (See Carrier-Grade WiFi Still 2 Years Away – CableLabs.)

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

mendyk 12/11/2014 | 6:30:58 AM
Re: Opt out The word "public" here is a bit misleading. My understanding is that the service is available only to Comcast subscribers. Still, you'd think Comcast would be a little more sensitive to the issue, and maybe offer a $5 a month discount for customers that agree up front to allow their wifi to be an Xfinity hotspot. That might cut into the claim of offering millions of hotspots, but it would take the perceived sleaze out of this.
R Clark 12/10/2014 | 8:11:50 PM
Re: Opt out Can't see how Comcast can argue that it doesn't impact on performance and that it doesn't involve some cost for the home user. They should sell the shared public Wi-Fi option as a less expensive service with no opt-out, and be upfront about it.
MarkC73 12/10/2014 | 7:37:48 PM
Re: Opt out They need to give it a different spin, remember when getting personal information from people was so difficult?  Call it facebook, and people can't give enough. Call it Share-fi, where if you have one enabled on your account at home you can use other's on the go.
brooks7 12/10/2014 | 5:46:47 PM
Re: I don't get it sam,

There is a generic SSID called Xfinitywifi that should be firewalled by your Comcast router.  Any Comcast customer should be able to log into that network that you are providing via the Comcast router.

You are supposed to be able to turn it off, but it is why I use my own wifi instead of Comcast's.  Here is a useful link:



danielcawrey 12/10/2014 | 4:24:30 PM
Re: Opt out The biggest issue I see here is the fact that the majority of customers will have no idea that this is set up in their homes.

I am going to assume that Comcast has taken care of the requisite security issues. Even so, this is the public using supposed customer equipment. I'm not enitrely sure how I feel about this. 
sam masud 12/10/2014 | 3:28:16 PM
I don't get it I have Comcast with WiFi (built into my Comcast router), but someone would have to know my password to have access to my in-home Wifi. So are the subs who filed this suit saying that, in a sense, there is a sort of backdoor to my home WiFi that can be accessed by other Comcast subscribers? If so, that's downright sneaky since I was not told about it.
KBode 12/10/2014 | 3:25:19 PM
Opt out The biggest problem I see is that the opt out functionality doesn't work. Users complain that their preference is removed each time that the router receives an update!
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