3 things about Comcast’s Neighborhood WiFi HotSpots

I haven’t read anything about the Comcast Neighborhood WiFi hotspots issue, I just found this and decided to make an observation or three. I’m not sure how well this was thought through by Comcast…But I digress.

1. You’re now a commercial transmission site

Transmission towers, wifi

Photo Credit: Susie

Let me explain. When you start your internet service with Comcast, there is a physical installation of the transmission cables and you either pay a technician for that, or it’s already been done and you either pay to have the technician hook up the equipment or you can do a self installation. Regardless of the method, the physical cable has to be run in order for you to receive personal, protected (as much as possible), reliable Internet service.

Comcast is now taking that private, physical installation and making it a transmission site for a commercial WiFi hotspot that any Comcast customer can use without your permission or knowledge or ability to opt out, from what I can see [Update 2013-06-19:  I had a reader inform me that the customer can opt-out of the program and confirmed it based on the Mutlichannel.com article Cable Show 2013: Comcast Turns Wireless Gateways Into Neighborhood Wi-Fi Hotspots]. That Hotspot can’t exist if only the cable is there. There has to be a modem and router in order to broadcast, or distribute the hotspot signal. If there’s no Comcast customer there, there can be no hotspot.

Think of it like all the cell towers you see around you. While the companies own the equipment, it would be impossible for them to own all the land and buildings those towers are on, so they pay some sort of  combination of rental and/or access fees for their towers to be transmitting from those locations.  I don’t know of any compensation for Comcast customers and especially for those who own their own modem and router.

2. You’re providing an unpaid public endorsement  for Comcast by being a Neighborhood WiFi HotSpot

Funny story. I was going to use a photo of Captain Amazing (here’s a link to the results of a Google image search on Captain Amazing if you’re interested) from the 1999 Universal Studios film Mystery Men which is owned by Comcast, but couldn’t find a copy marked for free use. If I used one, it would be me distributing their product without a licensing agreement or compensation, which could be considered piracy, as opposed to them distributing their product using me as a distribution point without a licensing agreement or compensation which is considered…What now?

Anyway, you might ask how that’s a public endorsement? It goes hand in hand with the last thing…And I’ve saved the worst for last.

3. Your privacy can easily be violated

[There will be a lot of blanked out information following for privacy reasons]

I went to the site and saw that you could search for HotSpot locations, so I did. I went to http://hotspots.wifi.comcast.com/ put in a zip code for a Chicago neighborhood and I got this result:

Xfinity Neighborhood WiFi HotSpot Search Results

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This was my first search and I noticed something about the first street address result and I left it uncovered in the picture above. It says Fl Ground, short for Floor Ground. That doesn’t sound like a business address to me, it sounds more like a billing address. So I went to  http://www.switchboard.com/ and did a reverse address search and these are a portion of the result:

Switchboard.com reverse lookup results

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From two quick searches, I got these pieces of information:

  • A person’s name (And it was a person’s name, not a company or business)
  • Street address
  • Telephone number

And one last piece of never before publicly available information that ties all of this together in a scary and possibly dangerous way:

  •  The extremely high probability of that person being a Comcast customer. A business which sends technicians out to onsite service calls, in many cases house calls.

As I said in the beginning, I don’t think this was thought through very well and based on the information I was able to find out in less than 5 minutes using only widely available internet tools, Comcast might want to work on plugging some holes and soon.