Comcast's neighborhood hotspots may raise customers' electric bills $23 per year, Connectify says

A few folks find Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) policy of using Xfinity Wi-Fi residential and business routers to create neighborhood hotspots alarming and worry about potential privacy issues from putting a second SSID for the public on a router. But Connectify alleges it has found something else that should concern Xfinity customers: the extra power consumption, and potentially higher utility bills, that these devices engender.

Comcast has indicated that it costs subscribers nothing extra on their Xfinity bills to install and use routers that enable public Wi-Fi access as well as private access. However, Connectify contends the public's use of these hotspots will raise their hosts' electric bills.

"Based on our tests, we expect that by the time they roll it out to all of their subscribers, Comcast will be pushing tens of millions of dollars per month of the electricity bills needed to run their nationwide public Wi-Fi network onto consumers," Connectify said in a blog post on its Speedify website.

Connectify, which markets an application and service that bonds Wi-Fi, 3G, LTE and wired channels for greater bandwidth and faster connections, came to its conclusions regarding the extra power consumption by testing what it described as the standard Xfinity Hotspot setup for use in an office. The equipment sent to Connectify by Comcast included a Cisco DPC3008 cable modem and BelAir 20E Wi-Fi router, which broadcasts the Xfinity public hotspot.

In an experiment, Connectify connected two Microsoft Windows laptops to the Xfinity hotspot, with one streaming Netflix and the other downloading files. "You could immediately see the difference in the power meter, as the devices jumped from 0.14 Amps when idle, up to 0.22 Amps when actually being used," the company said.

Connectify used the average cost of power in the Mid-Atlantic, which it said is $0.162 per kilowatt-hour, to calculate how much hosting a Xfinity Hotspot might cost a residential or business customer in terms of electric utility charges. Connectify said that in Philadelphia, where it is based, the cost could run up to $22.80 per year, or $1.90 per month.

Connectify initiated a petition "to demand that Comcast offers increased Internet speeds to compensate their customers who are footing this bill for them." The company contends that at Comcast's going rate of $0.25 per one Mbps, anyone that hosts an Xfinity Home Wi-Fi Hotspot should get about 7.6 Mbps of extra speed in exchange.

On the petition site, Connectify wrote: "With the new public hotspots projected to be in millions of homes by the end of 2014, that translates to customers footing a bill upwards of $40,000,000 to roll out Comcast's public Wi-Fi network."

Notably, Connectify's allegations emerged the same week that the Society of Cable Television engineers, in league with Comcast and other cable operators, announced Energy 2020, a plan to develop new standards, technology, solutions and training to significantly cut the energy use and cost of cable networks by 2020.

Meanwhile, others remain concerned about security issues surrounding Comcast's neighborhood hotspot plan, particularly with regard to potential man-in-the-middle attacks. Ars Technica recently noted that an attacker could easily spoof both the "xfinitywifi" SSID and the Xfinity login page to get Xfinity credentials from devices set to automatically log into Xfinity public hotspots.

"By the way, those Xfinity Wi-Fi login credentials? They're the same set of credentials used to gain access to Comcast customers' account billing information, webmail, and other services," Ars Technica noted.

Similarly, Network World specified how a Wi-Fi Pineapple hacking tool would be used to create "hot-spot honeypots" targeting Xfinity users.

For more:
- see this Connectify blog post
- see this Ars Technica article
- see this Network World article

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