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