Comcast Building a Nationwide WiFI Network

Photo(Jim Hood @ ConsumerAffairs) Those cable companies are sneaky, all right. They're always trying to put one over on us. Take Comcast. It's not content just to buy NBC and Time Warner, now it's setting up little neighborhood wi-fi networks in places you'd never imagine.

Like your back yard.

Yep, big bad Comcast has been quietly bringing wireless broadband to neighborhoods all over America. Besides providing a private, password-protected network inside your home, the company's newest Xfinity routers automatically set up a second wi-fi network -- wide open and available for anyone within range.

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The company emphasizes that these are two separate networks. What goes on on the second public network won't affect your download speeds or impinge on your privacy in any way. 

"They'll look like two separate networks and they'll act like two separate networks," said Tom Nagel, who heads the Xfinity Wi-Fi initiative for Comcast, according to The Chicago Tribune. "Any use on the public side doesn't impact the private side."

Tipping point

The program has been conducted quietly so far in test markets around the country but Comcast has gone public in Chicago, which local boosters say could be the tipping point for making Comcast the biggest national operator of neighborhood wi-fi networks.

Demand for wi-fi has been steadily growing as smartphone and tablet users look for a cheaper alternative to costly cellphone broadband networks. Deploying cheap or even free wi-fi is a way for the cable companies to put a dent in Verizon, AT&T and Sprint and building the basis for customer loyalty programs. 

The neighborhood networks are free to Xfinity subscribers. Nonsubscribers will get two free hours a month; beyond that, they can access Xfinity Wi-Fi on a per-use basis. Rates run from $2.95 per hour to $19.95 per week, according to Comcast.

Travel freely

Xfinity subscribers will be able to travel freely without having to log in and out as they move from one hot spot to another, so that in time the network may grow to rival the cellular telephone networks, which are much more expensive to build and maintain.

Comcast has said it is closing in on having 1 million hot spots nationwide. Best of all, from Comcast's standpoint, is that the build-out is virtually free. The consumer provides the electricity for the router and the circuit already exists, so the only capital expense is the router. 

Slick, no?