Comcast Hotspot Lawsuit Alleges Company Broke the Law with Xfinity Public WiFi Initiative

Josh WolfordTechnology

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A couple of Comcast customers are none too happy with the company's Xfinity WiFi hotspot initiative, and have filed a class-action lawsuit against the ISP in a California district court.

Toyer Grear and Joycelyn Harris allege Comcast is violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and various other state statutes when it uses customers' wireless routers to "generate additional, public Wi-Fi networks for its own benefit."

It's not as if this is any secret. Comcast announced the program back in June of 2013. But the lawsuit takes umbrage with the manner in which Comcast rolled out the program and disputes Comcast's claims the it doesn't negatively affect existing customers' security and performance.

"Comcast is beginning to give its Xfinity Internet customers an additional "xfinitywifi" signal (or SSID) in their home that is completely separate and distinct from the family’s private and secure home WiFi signal. Offered at no additional cost to Xfinity Internet residential customers, the additional WiFi hotspots will enable friends, relatives, visitors and other Xfinity Internet customers instant, easy access to fast and reliable WiFi," said the company when it announced the initiative.

Comcast's goal? To create Wi-Fi coverage blankets, and to do so with the 'help' of its existing customers.

Comcast says it's offered at no additional cost, but according to the plaintiffs, there is a real cost to customers – and it's threefold.

"Comcast has externalized the costs of its national Wi-Fi network onto its customers. The new wireless routers the Company issues consume vastly more electricity in order to broadcast the second, public Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot, which cost is born by the residential customer," they allege.

"Additionally, this unauthorized broadcasting of a secondary, public Wi-Fi network from the customer’s wireless router degrades the performance of the customer’s home Wi-Fi network. Finally, the unauthorized broadcasting of a secondary, public Wi-Fi network from the customer’s wireless router subjects the customer to potential security risks, in the form of enabling a stranger who wishes to access the Internet through the customer’s household router, with the customer having no option to authorize or otherwise control such use."

Actually, Grear and Harris have a fundamental issue with the way in which the program was thrust onto customers.

"Comcast does not make its customers aware that, by contracting with Comcast for Internet access, the wireless routers they lease from the Company to establish their own Wi-Fi network will concurrently be used as part of Comcast’s national network of publicly accessible Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspots," they say in the lawsuit.

"Accordingly, Comcast does not obtain authorization from its customers to use their routers to generate an Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot; rather, Comcast simply uses its customers’ Internet access, equipment, and resources for its own benefit and to its customers’ detriment, without any authorization. Indeed, Comcast’s contract with its customers is so vague that it is unclear as to whether Comcast even addresses this practice at all, much less adequately enough to be said to have obtained its customers’ authorization of this practice."

Comcast says that the "xfinitywifi" network and your secure home network are completely separate.

"Your XFINITY Wireless Gateway broadcasts an additional “xfinitywifi” network signal for use with XFINITY WiFi. This creates an extension of the XFINITY WiFi network right in your home that any XFINITY Internet subscriber can use to sign in and connect. This XFINITY WiFi service is completely separate from your secure WiFi home network," says the company.

And the company also says that any slowdown would be minimal if anything.

"The broadband connection to your home will be unaffected by the XFINITY WiFi feature. Your in-home WiFi network, as well as XFINITY WiFi, use shared spectrum, and as with any shared medium there can be some impact as more devices share WiFi. We have provisioned the XFINITY WiFi feature to support robust usage, and therefore, we anticipate minimal impact to the in-home WiFi network."

The plaintiffs aren't buying it, however, and are seeking compensatory damages as well as "injunctive and equitable relief, including, but not limited to, enjoining Defendant from using residential customers’ wireless routers to create Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspots without first obtaining authorization."

Image via Mike Mozart, Flickr Creative Commons

Josh Wolford

Josh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer.

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