Sharing Wi-Fi With Neighbors Is Difficult

Services like Fon can make it easier, but Internet providers must give their OK.


Our home Internet connection went down recently. Luckily, I wasn't on deadline and decided to experiment with a neighbor's unsecured Wi-Fi network. In most urban settings these days, it's common to be in range of a number of Wi-Fi networks broadcast from other houses. It's also easy to see which are not protected by passwords and are available for piggybacking.

Sure enough, after moseying into the backyard for a stronger signal, I was up and surfing. Thanks, by the way, to whoever had the Linksys router with no security. I promise to tap it only in an emergency.

I wondered, though, why we couldn't arrange a mutually friendly backup plan with neighbors. But doing so with some security can be a pain. You have to trade network passwords, which makes me nervous. There are possible alternatives, including a program available from researchers at the University of Illinois. But it apparently requires a specific Linksys router—and a techie's skill to get it up and running.

Many Internet providers also strictly forbid Wi-Fi sharing. A Spanish company, with financial backing from Google and others, has for two years tried to make it honorable to share Wi-Fi connections. Fon sells a special, $40 router that enables secure sharing with other Fon members. And Fon has inked deals with some big providers, including Time Warner Cable, to expressly allow its service.

Something like Fon might be the answer, particularly as plans to unwire whole cities seem to be faltering. But it will most likely be a while before Fon gets a deal with a second-rung cable provider like Charter Communications, which is our Internet provider.

That's discouraging, particularly as cold weather sets in. Surfing from the backyard now seems a lot less appealing.


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