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Cablevision Faces Homespots Lawsuit

Comcast and Cablevision Systems have both launched initiatives around so-called WiFi “homespots,” which center on the use of secondary SSID signals in wireless routers that enable other credentialed customers to connect at no additional cost.  

Comcast and Cablevision now have something else in common – they’re both facing almost identical lawsuits over this practice.

The latest suit is being lobbed at Cablevision over allegations that using MSO-supplied wireless routers violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Courthouse News Service reports. Cablevision sets up its homespots “Optimum Smart Routers" that are provided to residential high-speed Internet customers at no charge; customers do have the option to purchase and use their own WiFi routers. 

The class action suit, filed by July 16 by lead plaintiff Paul Jensen, claims that Cablevision didn’t ask for his consent to use the router as a quasi-public hotspot, and asserts that the practice compromises his Internet speed, puts him at a greater security risk, and also increases his electricity costs, the report added.

"Engineers at Speedify, a technology company offering services to increase customers' Internet connection speeds, have run tests on routers supplied to residential customers, which broadcast secondary Wi-Fi networks - exactly like those Cablevision supplies to its customers to establish its Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspots," the complaint says. "The purpose of the tests was to determine whether such equipment used more electricity than comparable equipment that was not emitting a second Wi-Fi network." With respect to the electricity-focused complaint, the suit points to tests conducted by Speedify that found that devices that host and emit secondary signals use more juice than those that don’t.

Jensen also contends that Cablevision, which launched a WiFi-only phone service called Freewheel in February, told him that the homespot feature could not be turned off, and that his only other option was to buy a wireless router at retail.

Cablevision stood by its approach.

“Our customers love having access to Optimum WiFi both in and out of the home, and this frivolous lawsuit appears to be the result of plaintiffs’ attorneys looking for something to do,” Cablevision said, in a statement. “For more than 40 years, privacy and security have been of paramount importance to Cablevision, and all Optimum WiFi access points provide both convenient and secure wireless broadband connections for our customers.”

Comcast, meanwhile, is facing an almost identical lawsuit that was filed in December 2014 -- the same attorneys are involved in both legal actions. In the pending Comcast case, the plaintiffs are also seeking class action status, and are also arguing that Comcast’s homespot approach violates the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The suit also cites tests conducted by Speedify (this blog post sums up Speedify’s position on the use of homespots).

Comcast homespots are currently set up as “opt-out,” meaning that DOCSIS gateways that are part of the deployment emit the secondary SSID by default. Comcast is fighting that challenge, holding that it provides information to customers about the service and how they can turn off the public WiFi hotspot if they wish.