(CN) – Cablevision’s decision to create a public Wi-Fi network using customers’ wireless routers rather than creating its own infrastructure violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a class action claims.
In a complaint filed July 16, lead plaintiff Paul Jensen claims Cablevision’s cost-saving strategy amounts to unlawful trespass and unjust enrichment.
Jensen says Cablevision decided to turn its millions of residential customers into Wi-Fi hotspots, in an effort to compete with cellular providers such as AT&T and Verizon who provide consumers with Wi-Fi service via a massive infrastructure of cellular towers across the country.
According to the complaint, Cablevision decided to use the wireless networks its customers have in their homes as a way to create a public wireless network – Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspot – in order to avoid paying for the cellular infrastructure it would need to compete in a market that seems to have an voracious demand.
Consequently, unsuspecting customers who used Cablevision as their internet service provider now had “outsiders” piggybacking off their home Wi-Fi networks once individuals were within the range of the signal emanating from their home.
Jensen contends that Cablevision never asked for his consent to use his home network to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. Jensen also points out that Cablevision’s customer contract never mentions the existence of the secondary network they are providing to the public when they leased a router to him.
Not only did Cablevision act without his authorization, Jenson further asserts the company’s actions have compromised his internet speed, put him at greater security risk and increased his electricity costs.
“Engineers at Speedify, a technology company offering services to increase customers’ Internet connection speeds, have run tests on routers supplied to residential customers, which broadcast secondary Wi-Fi networks – exactly like those Cablevision supplies to its customers to establish its Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspots,” the complaint says. “The purpose of the tests was to determine whether such equipment used more electricity than comparable equipment that was not emitting a second Wi-Fi network.
“The test established that such devices do use more electricity than routers that only emit one Wi-Fi network, even if no one ever connects to the second Wi-Fi network, and thus the engineers concluded that companies engaging in such practices externalize millions of dollars in costs onto their unsuspecting customers in order to establish these Wi-Fi networks,” the complaint continues.
It goes on to allege that the unsuspecting customers’ home Wi-Fi network is slowed down due to the limited bandwidth. The residential customer unknowingly have an increase in traffic that they are not able to control. This affects their own connectivity since “guests” are piggybacking on the internet access they are billed for each month, the complaint says.
This increased traffic also heightens the residential customer’s security risk since strangers are connecting to the internet through the same wireless router, Jensen says.
He says when he called Cablevision to request that they remedy the situation, he was told that the wireless router he paid Cablevision to use could not have the Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspot feature turned off.
“Cablevision configures the routers it leases to consumers so that the Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspot cannot be disabled. Thus, consumers wishing to opt out of broadcasting a secondary Wi-Fi network from their homes are left with no recourse other than to buy an entirely new wireless router, costing anywhere from $50 to $200.” the complaint says.
Jensen seeks restitution, unspecified compensatory and statutory damages, and injunctive relief on claims of a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, trespass to chattels, unjust enrichment, state law claims.
He is represented by Hank Bates, of Carney, Bates & Pulliam LLC in Little Rock Ark., Brian Ku of Ku & Mussman PA, of Miami Lakes, Fla., and Gillian Wade, of Milstein Adelman LLP, of Santa Monica, Calif.
Cablevision spokeswoman Janet Meahan called the lawsuit “frivolous.”
“Our customers love having access to Optimum WiFi both in and out of the home, and this frivolous lawsuit appears to be the result of plaintiffs’ attorneys looking for something to do,” Meahan told Courthouse News. “For more than 40 years, privacy and security have been of paramount importance to Cablevision, and all Optimum WiFi access points provide both convenient and secure wireless broadband connections for our customers.”
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