WASHINGTON — Steal this router. Well, It isn’t exactly Abbie Hoff - man redux, but cable operators are facing potential new competition on the Wi-Fi front from their own customers.
Free Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups are looking to turn broadband subscriptions in urban areas into free, communal Wi-Fi hot spots.
The newly formed Open Wireless Movement is trying to enlist subscribers in that effort by persuading them that they will be sharing in the openness of the Internet, can help avoid being targeted by online marketers collecting information, and even help out emergency services by providing access points in time of emergency. The movement’s backers concede that many ISPs have terms-of-service policies that prevent such sharing — it lists a handful of those that don’t — but they also don’t discourage testing those policies.
“Unfortunately, the Terms of Service for many (but not all) ISPs currently have sections that may prohibit users from running an open wireless network,” the group’s website says. “As part of our movement, we call on ISPs to explicitly permit — and even promote — open wireless.”
Scott Cleland of Netcompetition.org, whose members include the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the American Cable Association, sees it as an attempt to force private companies to provide an Internet commons, where service is a “free, abundant good” that somebody else (that would be cable operators, other infrastructure providers, and ultimately paying subs) “magically pays for.”
Open Wireless backers dispute the freeloader characterization.
Cable operators have increasingly backed off plans to add stand-alone competing mobile wireless service to their bundles in favor of expanding Wi-Fi hot spots.
Cable attorney Dan Brenner, a partner at Hogan Lovells, said access to MSO-run Wi-Fi hotspots is now considered a significant added feature of cable offerings. If a home buys service, including Wi-Fi, and the terms of service prevent it, you are not supposed to share it with your neighbor because they haven’t paid for it, he said.