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Class Says Comcast Piggybacks on Homes

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal class action accuses Comcast of surreptitiously making its residential customers bear the cost of using their wireless routers to set up a secondary public wi-fi network.

Lead plaintiff Toyer Grear sued Comcast on Dec. 4.

He claims that Comcast saw its millions of residential customers as an opportunity to compete with major cellular carriers such as AT&T and Verizon. Though Comcast does not have cellular towers, its customers' households "could be used as infrastructure for a national wi-fi network," the complaint states.

So Comcast supplied its residential customers with new wireless routers equipped to broadcast their home wi-fi signals and additional wi-fi signals for the public, selectively activating the routers to broadcast the secondary public network (the "Xfinity wifi hotspot") across the country, with the goal of enabling 8 million hotspots by the end of 2014, according to the lawsuit.

"Public" in this case does not mean "free," but that access is available to anyone who pays to use a particular wi-fi hotspot.

Grear claims that Comcast does not request customers' authorization to use their residential equipment and networks for public use.

"Indeed, Comcast's contract with its customers is so vague that it is unclear as to whether Comcast even addresses this practice at all," the lawsuit claims.

In using its customers' home networks to build a national network, Comcast

"has externalized the costs of its national wi-fi network onto its customers," Grear says in the complaint.

He claims that the new routers use much more electricity than regular routers, and that this is "a cost borne by the unwitting customer."

Engineers at Speedify, a technology company that increases Internet connection speeds, ran tests on Comcast's new routers and determined that "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," the complaint states.

Based on the results of this study, Grear claims, Comcast's residential customers can expect electricity cost increases as great as 30 to 40 percent.

In addition, Grear claims, the Xfinity hotspots slow down the speed of customers' home wi-fi networks, since these home networks are available for use by strangers.

They also expose Comcast's residential customers' data to increased privacy and security risks, according to the complaint.

Comcast declined to comment.

Grear seeks certification of a class of all households in the United States that have subscribed to Comcast's Xfinity Internet Service, and a subclass of all California households that have subscribed to the service.

He also seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction, restitution and damages for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act and California's Unfair Competition Law.He is represented by Gillian Wade and Sara Avila, with Milstein Adelman, of Santa Monica

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