Stealing or Sharing?

July 1, 2002

NYTimes: A Dispute Over Wireless Networks
Politech: Text of NYC Time Warner nastygram to free 802.11 access point and Why NYC Time Warner is right to send nastygrams: "It's theft!"
Rickt: TWC Nastygram

There are 3 potential types of usage of public Wi-Fi.

  1. Unintentional
    This is probably going to be the most common, where people set up insecure networks without changing (or understanding) the default settings on their shiny new access points. This is bad for the subscriber, who is letting anyone in range into the network.

  2. Bandwidth leeching
    This is where I find that my neighbor has an open access point, and I can use that for free (or by agreement with my neighbor). This is bad for the ISP, because it is the equivalent of running cable from one apartment to another.

  3. Free public wireless
    This is where I drop by a place, such as a park or cafe and use someone's shared bandwidth serendipitously, the equivalent of having some friends over to watch tv. For example, I would have found this very useful in City Hall Park when I was on jury duty last week.

The problem is separating this type of occssional sharing from habitual sharing. Letting people at a cafe next door use your connection for a few minutes (where internet access would be nice to have, but not that anyone else would pay for) is very different from letting your neighbor piggyback a connection that he would otherwise pay for. The security considerations of an open access point are significant. Wireless Minefield: Insecure networks could lead to liability lawsuits

If you want to share your access, don't use Road Runner and be aware of the risks in letting anyone borrow your connection.

Posted by Andrew Raff at July 1, 2002 03:40 PM
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