June 12, 2013 | By Adi Kamdar

Comcast's New "Neighborhood Hotspot" Plan Isn't Quite the Open Wireless We Want

Yesterday, Comcast announced a "neighborhood hotspot iniative," a new plan to turn its millions of Xfinity Internet customers into Wi-Fi hotspots. Essentially, Comcast is setting up guest networks named "xfinitywifi" for all their customers, allowing for other Xfinity subscribers—and only subscribers—to access wireless networks if they are traveling. This plan is similar to that unveiled by the company Fon in Spain in 2007—share some Wi-Fi yourself and get access to others' networks when you roam around.

This is closer to what we're advocating for through the Open Wireless Movement—a world of ubiquitous, open wireless. And we commend Comcast for recognizing the importance of sharing Wi-Fi. But it's not quite there.

First, the privacy component: Comcast's plan makes you log in using your account credentials to verify you're a subscriber before letting you access the Internet. This ties your online activities to a specific login, eliminating the possibility of an a pseudonymous connection and weakening the privacy benefits of Open Wireless.

This also requires the use of what's known as a "captive portal," a page you must view and log in to before connecting to the Internet. The Open Wireless Movement promotes a world where you can roam around and have your device connect from network to network without having to worry about logging in; captive portals are a barrier to that idea, and are also known to be causing some serious Internet security problems (a technical subject that we'll post more about in future).

Comcast's plan is a step in the right direction—setting up somewhat accessible wireless networks is far better than being surrounded by dozens of locked networks with absolutely no way in. (They are also allowing guests to use "xfinitywifi" networks twice before having to log in.) Their plan, however, is not open wireless. Let's take the world a step further by implementing truly ubiquitous Wi-Fi—wireless networks that are privacy-friendly, secure, and freely accessible by any device.


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