Comcast of Eastern Shore LLC has filed suit against a Gambrills, Maryland-based provider of wireless Internet service to condos and timeshares, accusing the firm of illegally reselling Comcast’s high-speed Internet service.
The suit calls into question the legal limits on reselling broadband, a common practice at coffee shops around the country.
The lawsuit, filed in March, is attempting to stop Frank Clark, owner of OceanNet, from converting Comcast’s broadband service into a wi-fi signal and selling access to the network to 35 condo complexes, mostly in the resort town of Ocean City.
‘Unfair to All Consumers’
Jenni Moyer, senior director of corporate communications for Comcast, said she could not speak in detail about the suit because the litigation is pending.
“I can tell you, though, that we take theft of cable services very seriously and will pursue relevant courses of action,” Moyer said. “Cable theft is a violation of both state and federal law and, equally importantly, it is unfair to all consumers who pay for cable services each month.”
Ira P. Rothken, an Internet law expert and founder of the Rothken Law Firm in Novato, California, said there is a difference between what OceanNet is alleged to be doing and the common practice of a coffee shop reselling wi-fi to its customers.
“A coffee shop like Starbucks must enter into a commercial agreement with ATT to provide wi-fi access to consumers,” Rothken said. “The crux of the Comcast case is that the defendant, unlike Starbucks/ATT, allegedly decided to use a consumer account for commercial purposes.”
“There is no right to resell bandwidth unless one contracts for such a right,” Rothken said.
Sam Churchill, editor of dailywireless.org, said it appears Comcast has a good case, but “it’s hard to restrict access beyond your four walls.”
“I live in an apartment,” Churchill said. “If I leave my access point open and my neighbor uses it, should I be penalized? I don’t think so. On the other hand, if I charged people and required them to use a special password, then it’s a commercial service and ought to be considered as such, with appropriate service agreements.
“[Wi-fi hardware companies] Meraki and Fon provide a good ‘open’ model for grassroots wi-fi. I would hope that option would be available to everyone,” Churchill added.
Tabassum Rahmani ([email protected]) writes from Dublin, California.