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Comcast turns users into Wi-Fi sharers

US Internet provider Comcast has started turning subscribers in Houston, Texas into Wi-Fi sharers. Up to 150,000 Comcast routers have been activated with a new "xfinitywifi" initiative that effectively makes them Wi-Fi hotspots.

The ISP began activating the equivalent of "guest mode" on Arris Touchstone Telephony Wireless Gateway Modems that the company has been supplying to newer customers effectively turning the routers into local Wi-Fi hotspots. The hotspots can be accessed by any other Comcast broadband customer for an unlimited amount of time.

Comcast has been doing this for a while and plans to activate over 8 million xfinitywifi hotspots across the US by the end of the year.

There are lots of tricky bits here and the ISP is being a bit vague about some of the details.

First off, this is an "opt out" situation. Customers have to specifically request that they not share their bandwidth with strangers. Comcast claims that sharing will not impact subscriber’s broadband speeds or use up their allotted amount of bandwidth (assuming they are a fixed tier plan).

According to Comcast’s Wi-Fi FAQ page, “This XFINITY WiFi service is completely separate from your secure WiFi home network,” and “The broadband connection to your home will be unaffected by the XFINITY WiFifeature.” However they go on to say, “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.”

So which is it? The broadband connection to the home ‘will be unaffected’ or ‘there can be some impact as more devices share WiFi?’ You can’t have it both ways. And I’m pretty sure that Comcast’s rationalisation for charging Netflix a special fee for delivering content was because they were causing so much network congestion. Did Comcast suddenly find extra bandwidth somewhere that they can use for xfinitywifi but can’t use to clear up network congestion for some reason?

There is also another interesting bit on their FAQ regarding people who are not Comcast customers. Apparently anyone can access these hotspots.

“At select XFINITY WiFi hotspot locations, visitors are allowed two 60-minute complimentary sessions per month.”

And if strangers want to pay to log onto your network they can, “Use XFINITY WiFi for an hour, a day or a week by purchasing an XFINITY WiFi Access Pass.”

Read more: A closer look at Apple's attempt to bypass net neutrality with the Comcast deal

So Comcast is going to charge non-Comcast customers a fee to access broadband connections that their broadband customers already pay for. Just to be clear, Comcast charges customers for broadband connections and they charge Netflix to send content over those broadband connections and now they are going to charge non-Comcast customers to access those same connections.

Is this the kind of thing that could take off in the UK? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!