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Comcast Enables Public Hotspots on Customers' Home Wi-Fi: Lawsuit

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Comcast (which won't matter soon if the Justice Department approves Comcast's merger with Time Warner Cable), they go and do this. According to a lawsuit recently filed in San Francisco, Comcast secretly enabled a "feature" in Comcast-owned wireless routers that broadcasts a public wireless signal from those routers.

Comcast is hijacking your wireless network! Well, sort of. But it's still sneaky, if true.

Your SSID Has a New Friend

When we found out in June that Comcast's wireless modem/routers also broadcast a second, public wireless signal, the function had been enabled for about a year. It was all part of Comcast's attempt to cover the country in public wireless hotspots. The hotspots require a Comcast account to use, and Comcast has promised up and down both that public network is completely separate from your home network and that the public network won't affect your bandwidth.

But one San Francisco customer has had just about enough. Last week, Toyer Grear filed a federal class action suit on behalf of himself and all others with Comcast wireless routers that have been turned into public wireless hotspots. His alleged harm? The electric bill, which the lawsuit claims could go up by 30 to 40 percent.

Harm isn't exactly sprouting up through the floorboards, but Comcast's practices are still questionable (and by the way, customers who have Comcast's own wireless router/cable modem combo device pay about $6 a month for the privilege). Grear points out that Comcast's contract with customers doesn't cover this particular practice, but that might be by design. The lawsuit says that "Comcast's contract with its customers is so vague that it is unclear as to whether Comcast even addresses this practice at all."

You Can Always Turn It Off, Right?

According to Comcast, customers can turn off the public hotspot function, said the San Francisco Chronicle. That requires customers to know how to do that first, and it's hard enough getting Grandma on her email account. Comcast also says that the two networks are completely separate, but that doesn't mean some enterprising hackers couldn't find a way around that.

To find out if your router is affected, look to see if the SSID "xfinitywifi" is being broadcast from it. If it is, well, there you are. Or, instead of renting Comcast's router, buy your own. They're only about $75 from Amazon, which pays for itself after about a year of Comcast's router (12 months at $6 a month).

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