Comcast’s Community WiFi Plan Disrespects Customers: Frontier

One of Comcast’s rivals has come out against the MSO’s ambitious plan to turn millions of home-side wireless gateways into quasi-public WiFi hotspots, saying Comcast’s optout policy for the feature is “disrespectful.”

That’s the view of Kelly Morgan, the vice president and general manager of Frontier Communications, who blogged about Comcast’s community WiFi activities last week, while noting that that Frontier has no such plans of its own.

“The lack of consumer choice is disrespectful,” she wrote. “Rather than allowing customers to opt in to opening their homes to becoming hotspots, they are unilaterally making homes into hotspots and forcing customers to figure out how to opt out of this sharing if they don’t want to be a commercial hub for Comcast.”

Morgan’s jab came as Comcast is starting to accelerate the deployment of hotspots in business and public venues, and light up secondary “XfinityWiFi” service set identifiers (SSIDs) in customer gateways. Comcast customers can access those Xfi nityWiFi hotspots using their log-in credentials.

The Xfinity WiFi footprint has expanded to about 3 million hotspots; the company wants to eclipse 8 million hotspots by year-end.

Comcast said it has activated the secondary SSIDs in gateways in Houston; Philadelphia and the southeastern Pennsylvania tri-state area; Greater Boston; western New England; Indiana; Chicago; Atlanta; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Salt Lake City.

Comcast insists the public-facing SSIDs work on a separate network that keeps the customer’s home WiFi network secure, and usage of the Xfinity WiFi feature will have a minimal impact on customers’ in-home WiFi networks.

So far, fewer than 1% of customers have opted-out of the community WiFi feature, a Comcast representative said, and usage is on the rise.

“This year, we’ve seen over 400 million WiFi sessions on Xfinity WiFi carrying about 2 Petabytes of data each month,” Comcast said in a statement. “Compared to a year ago, that’s more than a 750% increase.”

Cablevision Systems, Liberty Global and Ziggo, the largest MSO in the Netherlands, have similar projects underway.

While these hotspots are being used to add value to cable modem subscriptions, the resulting expansion might also pave the way for so-called “WiFi First” mobile phone services that fall back on cellular connectivity.