Comcast Faces Lawsuit Over Home Wi-Fi Routers

A class-action lawsuit was filed against Comcast last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit was submitted by East Bay residents Toyer Grear and daughter Joycelyn Harris, who claim that Comcast is using its equipment to exploit customers for profit. They're seeking an injunction that will prevent Comcast from using its residential wireless routers as public hotspots. The suit also seeks compensation for unspecified damages.

According to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle, Comcast is looking to build a public Xfinity WiFi hotspot network. This network will reside in 19 of the largest cities here in the United States and compete with America's top mobile service providers such as AT&T and Verizon. To do this, Comcast has added a second Internet channel to the newer models of its wireless gateway modems that are leased out to subscribers.

This second channel is what Comcast is using to build its public network, and it's not supposed to interfere with the private channel used by residents. The cable company began activating this second public channel in the Bay Area back in the summer. The lawsuit states that this was done without permission and places the costs of having a public wireless network onto Comcast customers.

The suit also alleges that under heavy use, the secondary channel adds 30 percent to 40 percent more energy consumption than if the channel was turned off. Even more, the lawsuit states that the two plaintiffs have experienced "decreased, inadequate speeds on their home Wi-Fi network" since the second signal was activated.

In the past, Comcast revealed that the modems have two antennas: one for the private network and one for Comcast's public network. This supposedly provides a layer of security, but the lawsuit shoots that theory down, alleging that the device is less secure with the second channel activated because strangers are accessing the same router that's used by Comcast subscribers.

Although Comcast is not responding to the lawsuit, the company revealed back in June 2014 that in other regions where the second channel was activated, only 1 percent of those subscribers chose to opt out. There is an option for bailing out of the public hotspot network, but the lawsuit seems to indicate that customers typically have no idea that the second channel is even switched on.

"Comcast's contract with its customers is so vague that it is unclear as to whether Comcast even addresses this practice at all, much less adequately enough to be said to have obtained its customers' authorization of this practice," the lawsuit states.

Bryan Byrd, communications director for Comcast's California region, said back in June that in the areas where the Comcast public network has been rolled out, the company has received positive reception. The router in question is the Arris Touchstone Telephony Wireless Gateway Modem. Obviously, customers who use their own store-bought modems to access Comcast's network are not affected.

Are you a Comcast customer? Do you care if the company is building a free WiFi network by using the router that you're leasing?

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  • Shin-san
    I'm so glad I bought my modem and router. If they are going to use it as a hotspot, they should rent the stuff out for free
  • Mike Coberly
    Motorola Surfboard user here, Comcast and their $7 a month fee to "lease" garbage hardware to "customers".

    Watch what say,

    EDIT: I won't curse if you learn proper grammar
  • Solandri
    Fix nearly every problem with broadband in the U.S. once and for all. Just declare cable monopolies illegal - require local governments to allow more than one cable TV/internet provider.

    The moment you have competition, customers will get to vote with their dollars when their cable TV company tries to pull a shenanigan like this. Same goes for intentionally degrading Netflix service to extort Netflix into paying up. They'd only succeed in driving their customers to a competitor which doesn't degrade Netflix.
  • dgingeri
    Those all in one router/wireless/cable modem are also very easily exploited by former Comcast support people. They know administrative access into that router and can hack into your home network fairly easily. They can also be turned into mail servers for spammers. Welcome to the world of being used as a patsy for every scum bucket who cares to exploit you, and paying for the electricity for their legal and illegal activities.

    I'm, unfortunately, a Comcast customer, but I use my own modem and router. I advise everyone I know to do the same. Spread it around.
  • gamerxavier
    American ISPs of all sorts are right of their with those damn oil companies. Controlling **** all over the place. I really hope the FCC votes to make them a utility.
  • sportfreak23
    Still waiting for an ISP that isn't garbage.
  • jalek
    I guess it might matter in San Francisco. I saw the public network show up, but the router's range ends before my driveway, so anyone using it would have to be sitting on my porch.
  • Nick Fetty
    The second channel coming from the router is not free requires a subscription to Xfinity, (to read pay Comcast more) to use, it does come bundled with some of their Internet packages but not all of them, and lastly Its offered as a standalone product also, at least where I'm from that's how it is and all the xfinity wifi in town requires Comcast ID password to use it. This is where I ended, I could write for hours about the evils of Comcast but now I'll stop before I get ahead of myself.
  • firefoxx04
    Yeah screw comcast. We rent their crappy router and pay per month for it. I had the tech set it up so it acts only as a modem so we can use our own router.

    Comcast rarely treats their customers well. My grilfriends grandma is using a regular COAX cable from her comcast box to her TV.. and she pays for HD tv and watches the HD channels yet they are displayed in a lower res because the comcast tech did not use an HDMI cable when he installed the setup. This is common everywhere. Dont get me started with their local shops where you come to drop off equipment. Its like the DMV. Take a ticket, stand in line for an hour just for some idiot behind the counter to bs you.

    Comcast is a joke.
  • falchard
    I live in a Cox area. Suck it Comcast users.
    BTW, I really don't see whats wrong here. Must be a San Francisco thing to be butt hurt over 2 or 3 watts. I don't mean to troll or be mean, I just think this lawsuit is rather petty and is probably done to make a couple bucks.
    Most cable companies are moving to City Wide Wifi, and this will more than likely be part of its implementation. Particularly it will be for the customer at that address in order to stream line joining networks outside the home. Most people are not tech savvy and will probably have trouble connecting to a City Wide Wifi network from their home network, or it could potentially fight with the home network in cases where the home network signal is weak verse a wireless router setup at a tap.