My own hotspot...
May 15, 2008 2:01 PM   Subscribe

What is the legality of providing free/cheap wifi to neighbors?

I live in a townhouse complex, what is the legality of broadcasting an access point that gives free or possibly cheap internet? Barring your own internet providers' stance on sharing internet, are there any permit requirements, legal issues that may come up?

I'm thinking a redirected portal page that comes up, so no advertising other than the AP name. Possibly free low speed and nominal charges for full speed.

Would this be something that would warrant something more than a slap on the wrist or a letter from the homeowners board saying "don't do that?"
posted by wongcorgi to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Personally I'd be more concerned about what people might use said hotspot for (content DL, etc.) rather than what the homeowners' board might say.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:07 PM on May 15, 2008

Well, I think it would be a nice thing to do for your neighbors but to play devil's advocate: if your neighbor torrents a movie, pirates a CD or downloads kiddie porn, it would be on your account and you could get in trouble.
posted by sharkfu at 2:08 PM on May 15, 2008

My APs have always been open. About 10% of the time, someone nearby is using it.

Your region may have laws that make it illegal to use other people's networks -- that's at least selectively prosecuted in my state, Florida. I know of only one case in the past 5 years though.

For providing Wifi, it could be a violation of your ISP TOS contract, but it's not likely that there's a legal statute about that in particular. In the EU, some ISPs are required to log their customer's net usage in some way, IIRC (though this seems impossible to me) -- so a EUer could be put in the klink if some buckaroo copper wants to harass them.

Incidentally, the idiom for showing that you give permission for people to use your network is to suffix your SSID with ".public", like "wongcorgi.public".
posted by cmiller at 2:31 PM on May 15, 2008

This is perhaps the wrong place for this (maybe it deserves an AskMe of its own), but say one was willing to overlook their provider's TOS and willing to tolerate their neighbors' perversions, how would said one go about providing an open access point while also securing said one's own household WiFi network (the PC, the NAS, the SlimServer) from the perverts outside?

How about doing the above AND reserving enough bandwidth for oneself to take part in the occasional MeFi TF2 Frag-a-ganza?
posted by notyou at 2:49 PM on May 15, 2008

notyou: You should consider the WiFi network as part of "the outside" -- which means you should keep your PC, your NAS box, etc. on your wired network (which is firewalled off from the wireless network). Even if you have a password-protected private WiFi network, do not put machines you care about (which should include your PC and NAS) on it.
posted by phliar at 3:03 PM on May 15, 2008

How about doing the above AND reserving enough bandwidth for oneself to take part in the occasional MeFi TF2 Frag-a-ganza?

Some routers will let you do packet-shaping, or limit bandwith to certain IP ranges.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:08 PM on May 15, 2008

notyou: The coova firmware is designed to do what you want.
posted by PueExMachina at 3:18 PM on May 15, 2008

People here in Portland are doing it on a larger scale: Personal Telco.
posted by hulahulagirl at 4:02 PM on May 15, 2008

It's fine! It's generous! Go ahead. If someone downloads something illegal on your IP, the fact that it's open to the public is its own alibi. God save you if you're accused of something and your access point is encrypted.
posted by gum at 4:30 PM on May 15, 2008

The homeowners' board cannot stop you in any way from operating an access point. Your ISP could ban you from connecting it to their network, but nobody short of the FCC can tell you what you can and can't do with radio waves.
posted by oaf at 5:11 PM on May 15, 2008

There was an interesting discussion on Lifehacker on this a few months back. Might be worth reading the many comments that were posted there.

Why You Should Run an Open Wireless Access Point
posted by 543DoublePlay at 5:41 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

notyou: I think this can be accomplished either by enabling 'AP isolation' on the router, or by having the router hand out IP's on a different subnet than the wired/private network, ie. if the private machines operate on 192.168.1.x, and the router's IP is 192.168.2.x, then the two networks can't communicate with each other.
posted by unmake at 6:31 PM on May 15, 2008

Probably the only way it could be illegal is in a fraud or theft of service sort of way. Your ISP's price to you is contingent on the fact that you (your household) is the end user. If you wanted to be a redistributor, you would be charged more. And so you are technically committing fraud by paying for one service but using it for another.

The larger issue for you would be the liability- ISPs have the common carrier sorts of legal protections because they have certain responsibilities. Are you willing to meet those responsibilities?

That's the technicalities of it.

In the real world, there's probably nothing that will happen to you. Unless your router is broadcasting at too high a power. The FCC won't like that.
posted by gjc at 6:37 PM on May 15, 2008

"The homeowners' board cannot stop you in any way from operating an access point."

Actually, they can. If your wireless is causing problems for other owners, then they have the duty to have you curtail your behavior. You can do whatever you want IN your unit, but that behavior can't be causing a nuisance. When you buy into a homeowner association, you relinquish some autonomy.
posted by gjc at 6:42 PM on May 15, 2008

Actually, they can.

Actually, they can't. The unlicensed spectrum is the domain of the FCC, and only the FCC; the homeowners' association cannot regulate it at all.

If your wireless is causing problems for other owners, then they have the duty to have you curtail your behavior.

If my wireless is causing problems for other owners, and I'm operating within FCC guidelines, the homeowners' association cannot force me to alter my behavior.
posted by oaf at 6:48 PM on May 15, 2008

I was actually looking into wireless for my condo association. We were thinking about offering it like a utility that would be included in the assessment. One company I contacted was Speakeasy. The response that I received was extremely encouraging. I'm not sure what kind of capacity you are looking for be we were looking at a T1 line. We never did commit to our plan but if we ever decided to try again Speakeasy would probably be one of the first companies that I would contact.
posted by crios at 7:37 PM on May 17, 2008

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