According to recent news, Comcast is being sued because it is taking advantage of users’ resources to build up its own nationwide Wi-Fi network. Since mid-2013 the company has been updating consumers’ routers by installing new firmware that makes the router partially devoted to the “home-user” network and partially devoted to the “mobile-user” network (a Comcast service named Xfinity WiFi). In fact, the same network infrastructure offers two different kinds of connection: the first one covers a comparatively restricted (local) area and stays under the relative control of the private end-user; the second kind of connection is “shared” between Comcast customers and covers a wider area, compatible with the range of national mobile carriers. In other words: the last mile of data transmission is being made mostly by a group of home based routers (or access points) that offers two different Internet connection services, the local “private” network and the metropolitan “shared” network.
For the past year, I’ve been serving on the FCC’s Open Internet Advisory Committee (OIAC), and chairing its mobile broadband working group. The OIAC just completed its first annual report (available here). The report gives an overview of the past year of work from four working groups (economic impacts, mobile broadband, specialized services, and transparency). I highly recommend anyone interested in Open Internet issues take a look.
Several of the articles noted the relationship to an earlier controversy concerning AT&T and Apple’s FaceTime application. Our Mobile Broadband Working Group at the FCC’s Open Internet Advisory Committee released an case study on the AT&T’s handling of FaceTime in January of this year. Our report may help inform the new debate on the handling of the Google Hangout video app on cellular networks.