Subscribers to Comcast need to start worrying about that company's plans to make all of its cable subscribers into wi-fi hotspots, accessible to anyone driving nearby. Nor is Comcast likely to be alone in this; expect every other cable provider to do the same. It's just that Comcast is the first to publicly speak about its plans. The Washington Post reports:
Thanks to a growing network of Wi-Fi hotspots, Comcast is arguing that it, or another company piggybacking off of its technology, could shake up the wireless industry by delivering cheaper cellular service to consumers and introducing another competitor to the market. Comcast is already rolling out the infrastructure it would need for such a push; it operates 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the country and plans to expand that to 8 million by year's end.
Comcast says that it has no imminent intention to launch a cellular service. But in April, the cable company raised that possibility as one of several arguments to support its Time Warner Cable purchase.
"A ubiquitous Wi-Fi network built by Comcast could make a 'Wi-Fi-first' service, which combines commercial mobile radio service with Wi-Fi, a more viable alternative," Comcast wrote in its public interest filing to federal regulators.
With the technology, Comcast could route a portion of mobile phone calls over Wi-Fi, which is easy to do from a stationary location but harder to do while a caller is in motion because the call needs to be handed off from one Wi-Fi hotspot to another. Only a few companies, such as Republic Wireless, offer Wi-Fi-first calling right now. If a large company like Comcast can figure out how to do it, it would effectively turn the cable company into a wireless company with the resources to compete with the nation's largest providers.
There's more at the link.
This means that if you have a Comcast cable modem with wi-fi capability, the company is likely to use it as a hotspot without even telling you about it, unless you explicitly shut off that capability. Off The Grid News shows you how to do that - at least for now, unless and until Comcast takes away that option.
The problem with this is that an unsecured wi-fi hotspot is an open invitation to malicious users to grab your wi-fi feed, log into Web sites and conduct activities that might attract law enforcement interest - for example, child pornography, drug deals on 'underground' Web sites such as Silk Road, perhaps even the use of terrorist Web sites to upload or download information. By using other peoples' hotspots, they leave no trace of their own location - and police tracking such activity will be very interested to know why it's coming from your home's IP address. If you get a visit from Officer Unfriendly, perhaps accompanied by a SWAT team, you'll have no recourse except to deny all knowledge of what they're looking for. The problem will doubtless be sorted out in due course - but by then your reputation among your neighbors will be in tatters, your dog might be dead, and you can still find yourself in all sorts of trouble merely for being under suspicion.
I think this is a really, really bad idea. However, I'm sure Comcast and companies like it don't care what people like me think. They want to make money off their network. I expect them to make it a condition of contract that we have to allow the use of their cable modems as wi-fi hotspots, whether we like it or not - and I certainly don't! Trouble is, if all cable companies insert similar clauses in their contracts, what alternative is left to us?