Three U.S. senators today urged Comcast to open all of its Wi-Fi hotspots to children who lack Internet access at home during the pandemic. Ars Technica reports: A letter (PDF) from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) says that Comcast recently refused a request to do so because it would cause congestion for subscribers. But the senators argue that “Comcast’s excuse simply does not add up.” Comcast has been praised by advocates for its pandemic response, which includes two free months of home-Internet service for new low-income subscribers, temporary suspension of its data cap, and making many of its hotspots free to the general public. But while Comcast opened up 1.5 million hotspots located at businesses and other public areas, there’s another category of Comcast Wi-Fi hotspots that still require a Comcast login and subscription. Those are the hotspots that are enabled by default on Xfinity routers used by home-Internet subscribers.
Since 2013, Xfinity gateways have broadcasted a separate network that other Comcast subscribers can log in to with a Comcast username and password. Unless you’ve disabled the functionality, anyone within range of your Comcast router can get Internet access if they have a Comcast subscription or have paid for a temporary Wi-Fi pass. Wyden, Harris, and Booker argue that Comcast should open these hotspots to children without Internet access during the pandemic so that kids can get free broadband at home instead of having to go to a parking lot or other public places. In the letter, the senators ask Comcast to answer a list of questions by May 22. They also want the company to provide specific details on how opening up the hotspots would affect network performance.
“Please identify the specific performance issues that you anticipate would impact Comcast subscribers and their ability to get the level of service for which they pay if Comcast removed the paywall on its residential public Wi-Fi networks,” the senators wrote. “For each issue you identify, please explain why the use today of a subscriber’s public network by someone who has purchased an access pass from Comcast does not cause the same problem.”