[Cu-wireless] Interesting Read for those in the US, on WiFi and Legality

Willy Smith willy at linuxgazette.com
Fri May 7 08:09:26 CDT 2004


Last paragraphs excerpted:

The Access Point Felony 
 Even putting up an unencrypted, unprotected wireless access point might 
conceivably get you in trouble. Let's say that it's a nice day out, and you 
want to sit in Riverside park on the Upper West Side and enjoy the day. So 
you plug your Linksys 802.11(g) access point into your cable modem, and sit 
 You're busted! You see, when you "broadcast" the cable connection, you are 
opening it up for anyone to potentially use it. So other people can 
potentially get Internet access from Comcast without paying for it. In 
Maryland, for example, it is illegal to use an "unlawful telecommunication 
device" which is a "device, technology, [or] product . . used to provide the 
unauthorized . . . transmission of . . access to, or acquisition of a 
telecommunication service provided by a telecommunication service provider." 
Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia and Wyoming all have laws on 
the books that may do the same thing. 
 These laws generally treat "sharing" of Internet connections the same way it 
would treat "sharing" of Cable TV or Satellite TV services. Thus, while you 
could invite your neighbors in to watch the latest episode of The Sopranos, 
you probably couldn't hook a coax into apartment 3B so they could watch from 
home -- at least without getting the permission of the cable TV company. 
 You can see this in, for example, Verizon's personal DSL agreement, which 
states that "[y]ou may not resell the DSL Service, use it for high-volume 
purposes, or engage in similar activities that constitute resale (commercial 
or non-commercial), as determined solely by Verizon." So, if Verizon 
determines that your 802.11 connection constitutes a non-commercial resale 
(and is unauthorized) not only can it cut you off, but it can make you a 
 All of this means that the simple act of driving around and getting WiFi 
connections as needed, something we hope to be able to do (isn't that why we 
bought the Centrino in the first place?), is fraught with legal risk. One way 
to counter this is to establish more universal wireless access agreements 
(like we did with the first cell communications) so we can pay a single fee 
and move from WAP to WAP freely. 
 But ultimately if we want to move to ubiquitous wireless computing, where you 
can use the WiFi protocols for cheap, mobile VOIP communications, or have 
near universal wireless Internet access, we are going to have to persuade the 
law to get the hell out of the way. 

Willy Smith
Editor in Chief

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