Comcast Is Turning Customer Routers Into Public WiFi Spots

Are you a Comcast or Xfinity customer? If so, there’s an exciting new initiative Comcast is trying to make you be a part of without asking. Namely one where, if you’ve got the latest version of Comcast’s WiFi “gateway,” you’ll not only be broadcasting your own private signal, but a public one! That any Comcast subscriber can use! Without your knowledge!

The idea is actually a pretty good one, in its own way. If you’re a Comcast subscriber, you can just ping the area and use public Internet wherever you are, as part of the Comcast neighborhood node program. But Comcast makes a few claims we’ve got to look at with skepticism.

This signal is completely different from the signal that subscribers have in their home. This means that if customers subscribe to a 50Mbps broadband service, they will have full access to that speed and capacity, without any interference or degradation in service from the public Wi-Fi portion. “Our broadband customers will continue to get the service that they are paying for,” Tom Nagel, senior vice president of business development, said in an interview. “That was extremely important to us in designing this product.”

If the latest version of their routers are really two separate routers, that makes sense, we suppose. But the whole “this won’t compromise your service” claim is a bit like Comcast arguing that Netflix is from the grubby “public Internet” while their own streaming service is from a magical land of elves and fairies. It may be two separate routers… but it’s the same cable serving both groups, and if, for example, you’re broadcasting a connection in a fairly public area, it’s difficult to imagine that not causing any problems whatsoever. And, of course, there are concerns around security and privacy; this being Comcast, somebody figuring out how to hop onto the better connection and maybe steal your credit card numbers while he’s at it is a matter of when, not if.

Fortunately, you totally have to sign up for this. Just kidding! It’s an “opt-out” service, so this will just be flipped on if you have one of these “gateways” in your house and you have to tell Comcast to stop it. We might recommend buying a “router,” which will be both cheaper in the long run, and less prone to being called ridiculous things like “gateways”.