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How to Stop (or Start) Sharing Your Internet Connection with Strangers

Rob Pegoraro

How to Stop (or Start) Sharing Your Internet Connection with Strangers(Thinkstock)

If you’re not sold on the value of Comcast’s “Home Hotspot” feature providing free wireless access to other Comcast customers walking by, that’s understandable. The Philadelphia firm hasn’t done a great job of explaining what’s in it for you, the paying subscriber.

Read more: With Cable WiFi, Your Modem Is My Hotspot

Its suggestion that Home Hotspot means “you can give visitors WiFi access in your home without sharing your password or slowing down your network” assumes that all of your visitors use Comcast too; inviting those who don’t to log on will be like handing them a beer out of the fridge and then presenting them with a bill.

Turn it off
Fortunately, Comcast has made it a simple, no-phone-call-needed procedure to opt out. Better yet, you don’t have to monkey with your cable modem’s settings, either. Log in to your account at customer.comcast.com, click on the Users & Preferences heading, and then look under the Service Address heading and click the Manage XFINITY WiFi link.

If you get lost, see the screenshot-illustrated walkthrough at Tom’s Guide.

Or turn it on
What if you’d rather take the concept of providing free backup access to neighbors to a logical extreme and let anybody borrow your own broadband — without touching the computers on your home network? Then consult the site of the Open Wireless Movement.

At this project, backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, and others, you can look up instructions on activating the guest-network features on Apple, Asus, Belkin, D-Link and Netgear routers. This option provides strangers (or guests) with a path from your wireless router to the Internet service you’re paying for, but it keeps your computers, devices, and files separate. Most router manuals will suggest you put a password on the guest connection, but this site recommends leaving it open and naming that network “openwireless.org” to make it clear to passersby that they’re welcome to it.

The site warns that big-name Internet providers often ban sharing your Internet connection with the public like this. But it notes that these terms of service “are generally written very broadly and often purport to prohibit a lot of behaviors that many users engage in regularly.” It suggests that these terms may be read … artfully. 

Maybe they had Verizon’s rules in mind? The company’s terms of service ban sharing your connection with strangers over WiFi but also forbid you to “post off-topic information on message boards, chat rooms or social networking sites.” Should that second item really be a crime? If you don’t think so, leave a comment blaming this whole mess on that idiot [fill in the blank] in Washington.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.