5 Cable Companies Agree To Share Hotspots, But Will People Use Them?

For years, a number of the larger cable-based Internet providers have placed WiFi hotspots around the country for their customers to use when not in the comfort of their own home, but you had to find a hotspot operated by your ISP. Today, five of those companies — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, and Cox Communications — have announced that their customers will all soon be able to all use the same hotspots. But will people use them — and will this actually make some of the problems worse?

Given that “unlimited” mobile data is quickly becoming a thing of the past, having access to data services in public that don’t eat up our monthly allotments is a good thing. It helps us not go over and it keeps the wireless companies from crying “crunch!”

However, as almost anyone who has used a hotspot in a park/airport/hotel can attest, they tend to be spotty and often offer speeds that harken back to the days of dial-up. Unless the cable companies are also making significant improvements on the back end to speed things up, the problem seems likely to only get worse if more people suddenly have access to these hotspots.

Of course, you still need to find a hotspot. Even if you have your wireless device set to identify available WiFi, you would need to constantly check the list of networks to see if you are in one that is available for you to use. The joint announcement from the companies mentions that customers will have some way of automatically joining available networks in the future, though it doesn’t mention how it hopes to achieve this or give a timeline.

Right now, each company has its own network names — and they each have separate online maps/locators — but all 50,000 hotspots will eventually be brought under the name of “Cable WiFi,” which is a nice idea. Of course, we expect this will result in an increased number of scammers setting up bogus hotspots with the “Cable WiFi” name.

So while we applaud the Internet providers for deciding to make their hotspots available to each others’ customers, we also hope those companies are preparing for the uptick in usage — after all, only a reported 30% of Cablevision customers have used its hotspots in the last four years — and that consumers are more vigilant about making sure the network they’re joining the real deal.

Major U.S. Cable Companies Join Forces on WiFi [Press Release]

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  1. seth_lerman says:

    I’ve been using this for years. Cablevision, TWC and 1 other (I forget which) share hotspots in my area. All 3 SSIDs are broadcast from the same hotspot so once my devices were configured for “cablevision” it was transparent regardless of which company owned the actual spot.

  2. LanMan04 says:

    Even if you have your wireless device set to identify available WiFi, you would need to constantly check the list of networks to see if you are in one that is available for you to use.
    —————–
    Um, no, at least not on Android. Any network with the same SSID/encryption scheme is treated as identical by the OS.

    So, if you connect to a McDonald’s wifi network (which I believe are all called “wayport_access” or something like that) and leave that network “remembered”, the next time you go to any McDonald’s, your phone will connect to that wifi network automatically.

    Actually, this features is REALLY annoying in this particular case, as when you connect to a McDonald’s wifi network, you get redirected to some proxy webpage that makes you agree to terms before you’re connected to the “real internet”.

    So, I’ll be driving around and notice my phone is connected to wifi but has no data connection. Lo and behold, there’s a McDonald’s within a few hundred feet of me.

  3. LanMan04 says:

    Of course, we expect this will result in an increased number of scammers setting up bogus hotspots with the “Cable WiFi” name.
    ————–
    Heh, I do this at conferences I go to sometimes.

    1) Set up a wifi hotspot on your android phone, no encryption, with an SSID like “Hyatt Wifi”
    2) Start up WireShark (packet logger)
    3) Wait for people to connect
    4) ???
    5) Profit! (not really)

    The traffic is usually pretty boring. Lots and lots of SSL-encrypted sessions to boring places.

    Maybe I need to start injecting ads into their sessions…. :)

    • nugatory says:

      Its more fun to use a script to flip all images upside down. Just think of the tech support calls that would ensue.

      • LanMan04 says:

        Heh, I know you can easily do that with a Squid proxy…I need to look into proxy servers for Android….

    • j2.718ff says:

      Wireshark runs on android now?

      Actually, I’m not sure I could imagine running that on a phone. I’d rather do a tcpdump on the phone, and look at the wireshark capture later on my pc.

      • LanMan04 says:

        Yes, there are 2 WireShark programs for Android. One is the packet-capturer (which you can just turn on and off), and the other is a reader program to view the sniffed traffic.

        So yes, I use WireShark to do the capture and just look at the dump files later on a PC. Exactly as you describe.

  4. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I don’t have a smartphone, so I have to connect on my computer at the airport. I don’t use things that require a password when I do. Some things I’m already logged into so when they connect, I don’t have to type anything. So far, I haven’t had any problems….

  5. shthar says:

    What a first world problem.

  6. donjumpsuit says:

    Something tells me this is a slipper slope. The cable companies have begun to roll out a 300GB monthly cap, and perhaps if you have to identify yourself to use this “Free WiFI” it will somehow count against your cap. We shall see.

  7. Beef Supreme says:

    You have to authenticate yourself with your email address and password so the scammers issue is moot.

  8. majortom1981 says:

    People WILL use these. Cablevision has had wifi ap’s for 3 years. Comcast and timewarner have actually been following cablevisions lead on this. for 2 years cablevision gave time warner and comcast access on their ap’s via a seperate ssid.

    All this is doing is making the ssid one instead of 3. This deal also added brighthouse to the mix.

    I use this all the time . It helps when verizon wireless and att wireless are getting rid of unlimited data. Also cablevision does not have caps for its customers.