Comcast Turns Customer Routers into Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

by Matt Klassen on June 11, 2013

There’s long been a rule in business that true customer service makes one’s subscriber base feel like part of the family. Once a person feels that they’re truly valued, the business principle states, they’re more likely to stick with you for life. In an attempt to bolster its Wi-Fi network coverage, performance, and power Comcast has given this principle its own unique spin, welcoming customers in as part of the family by doing what any loving family would do… putting them to work.

On Monday Comcast announced several new initiatives aimed at expanding its Wi-Fi network coverage, the foremost being its new home-based neighbourhood Wi-Fi  hotspot project. This new home-based strategy ostensibly transforms one’s Comcast Wi-Fi gateway into a public hotspot, broadcasting both the customer’s own private signal and one that can be accessed by any Comcast subscriber.

Simply put, it you’re a Comcast customer with one of the company’s new Wi-Fi gateways, your router has been put into service, not just serving you, but serving everyone in your neighbourhood, whether you want it to or not.

As CNET’s Marguerite Reardon explains, the way it works is quite simple. “Comcast subscribers who are using the company’s newest wireless gateways for home Wi-Fi will broadcast an additional Xfinity Wi-Fi signal. And that additional signal will be the one that other Comcast customers, who already have access to Comcast’s public Wi-Fi network, will use.” [Italics mine]

Comcast has made it abundantly clear that this new public signal emanating from its customers’ routers will have no impact on their own personal home Wi-Fi signal, so if you have subscribed to the company’s 50Mbps broadband service, you’ll still have full access to the network without any “interference or degradation in service” from the public Wi-Fi signal.

“Our broadband customers will continue to get the service that they are paying for,” Tom Nagel, senior vice president of business development, said in a recent interview. “That was extremely important to us in designing this product.”

On a positive note, it does seem that having two signals emanating from the same gateway could improve the overall security of one’s Wi-Fi network, as one’s password no longer needs to be given out to guests or the like, but beyond that, unless one is overly altruistic I suppose, its difficult to see the real benefit of participating in this program.

As Reardon explains, “Xfinity customers already get access to all of Comcast’s Wi-Fi hot spots at no extra charge. It’s bundled into their home broadband service. So in many ways, there is really no incentive to participate in the Comcast community Wi-Fi initiative.” But given that Comcast customers will participate in this program by default, and can only stop their participation by actively opting out, most customers will likely not even realize they are providing public Wi-Fi services on their personal router from their home broadband connection.

In the end, there seems to be a great deal to be skeptical about, particularly Comcast’s claims that this additional public signal will have no effect on one’s private bandwidth, for while it may ostensibly be two separate routers serving these groups, the signal comes from the same cable, and if that you happen to be in a particularly public place, its hard to imagine that traffic not impacting your own service in any way.

While Comcast clearly would like this to be a way for customers to feel ‘part of the family,’ the reality is it has turned them into nothing more than faceless cogs in its giant Wi-Fi machine.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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