On June 25th, Rick Tait, a Time Warner Cable customer in New York, received an overnight letter from his ISP. Rick had been operating an open wireless access point, hanging a low-cost wireless hub off of his cable-modem connection and making the service from his ISP available to his neighbors and to passers-by. The letter from Time-Warner sternly upbraided him for this:
Rick posted the letter to his site, and soon others came forward to disclose that they, too, had received threatening notes from Time Warner Cable.
Rick is part of the NYC Wireless project, a group of public-spirited individuals who are setting up low-cost wireless hubs that use the 802.11b ("WiFi") standard to provide Internet access to their neighbors. The NYC Wireless group rose to prominence in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks on Manhattan. From first-hand reports, survivors used anonymously donated Internet connections to get the word out about the action on the ground due to direct contributions from NYC Wireless members. The NYC Wireless group was on the front lines of disaster relief in Manhattan from the moment the attacks began.
Community wireless networks are more than community-building exercises or a way to enable geeks to connect from coffee-shops. As Time Warner's legal department has noted, these networks are also a critical means of providing anonymous Internet access. Democracy demands that people be free to speak their minds, and sometimes the only way that can happen is if the speaker is shrouded in anonymity. It's not just whistleblowers who finger corrupt practices and kids trying to discover the truth about sexually transmitted diseases who benefit from anonymity: dissidents from repressive regimes travel from all over to world to America to speak out anonymously, just as the Founding Fathers did in the Federalist Papers.
Time Warner Cable is free to bind its customers to any lawful terms of service that it thinks the market will bear, of course. It all comes down to the right of a customer to choose which business she will patronize. Customers who value the public-spiritedness and civil-liberties aspects of community wireless networks should choose ISPs like New York's bway.net, whose director of marketing says, "If someone buys DSL from us, and they want to set up a wireless network so their friends can use it, that doesn't make them bad customers."
EFF has begun to keep a list of American ISPs that welcome community wireless members on their networks. Below is a list of 11 ISPs that care enough about their customers to give them the freedom to use their Internet connections as they wish. We welcome your assistance with this -- please, contact us with your additions or corrections to this list. As the list grows, we'll make this more sophisticated, creating a database-driven search application for it as well.
Wireless community networks are springing up in many cities around the world. In addition to NYC Wireless, the Bay Area hosts BAWUG, Portland Oregon has Personal Telco, and there's also Austin Wireless, Pittsburgh Wireless, London's Consume.net and many others.
If you're interested in getting started with community wireless networking in your hometown, have a look at Building Community Wireless Networks, a book by Rob Flickenger, which covers the politics, legalities, social considerations and technical details of getting started with regional wireless projects.
They'll even give you hardware to set up your wireless access point! This is because Atlas has a deal with Joltage, a wireless ISP. If you create a Joltage access point ("hot spot"), you can get paid for people who use your connection.
Doug Walford at BritSys writes with the following: We are wireless friendly, we have many customers running wirless equipmentin their area from our DSL and T1 lines.
Acceptable use policy does not prohibit bandwidth sharing.
Joe Plotkin of bway.net writes: "We are proud members of NYCWireless.org."
An article on their support can be found in this Buisness Week article:
No EULA could be found on the website.
Terms and Conditions mention nothing prohibiting bandwidth sharing.
FAQ states that nultiple users in the same home may share the same internet connection.
Customer service rep Pavel Radda writes: Ultimately, weighing out the pros and cons is up to the end-user. Sharing of broadband is nothing new, ever since the service was deployed people learned to share it. In the past they used physical Ethernet cables and a hub, today the medium of choice in wireless.
Additionally, only the dialup service agreement says that "You and members of your household or business, if you have purchased a business account, are the only authorized users of your EarthLink account and must comply with this Agreement." The language of other services such as DSL and cable state that "You must keep your password confidential so that no one else may access the Services through your account."
While wireless sharing is not specifically prohibited, the language is unclear and you should reasearch your specific subscription plan.
Sharing explicitly allowed! In an email from John Beaston, VP of Customer Services at EasyStreet, he noted that, "In exchange for our supportive sharing policy, we've requested EasyStreet users who have put up a shared wireless access node to let us know" so that data on bandwidth usage may be gathered.
Neither the short AUP nor the FAQ mention any restrictions on connection-sharing. Confirming this, Mike Smith at Frontier Telekom writes: We support the "free-net" movement so you could say we are wireless friendly. We provide free bandwidth to the DallasFreeNet.
An inexpensive and friendly ISP run by Rudy Rucker Jr, MonkeyBrains will allow wireless sharing. Visit the website or contact Rudy for more information. The service is dial-up so you might want to run a small, low traffic wireless network.
Note that if you want an always on, dedicated connection, the minimum cost is $50 per month (see section 8 of the AUP).
No EULA on website, however the Austin Wireless group reccomends Onramp-- and this note from Onramp President Chad Kissinger doesn't say anything about needing a commercial DSL package, as previously reported: We price all of our connectivity packages in such a way that the customer can do anything they want with the bandwidth, including sharing it via wireless connections
John Sechrest writes that, "We would be glad to support wireless users," and that, "We currently have several options for people who want to place point to point services. Either frame, serial , or DSL. We are open to a point to point wireless with anyone,so long as we can capitalize the equipment". Note the dedicated subscription options.
Spencer Garrett at 2alpha writes: We're a bunch of flaming Libertarians here, and we've carefully chosen our service offerings so that we don't need to impose restrictions on what our customers do with their bandwidth. We have one customer doing wireless sharing right now, and several more considering it, and all of them know they don't have to hide it from us. Put us down as wireless-friendly. Heck, we're just friendly in general. :-)
Please send any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.