Wanting to retrofit Internet connectivity to your WiFi-only e-reading device in the UK? You may soon have another option—a free one, yet. The Telegraph reports that Virgin Media is planning to roll out a free public WiFi network, using its subscribers’ wireless routers (both home and mobile) to provide the Internet access. Virgin’s home subscribers would get download rates of up to 10 Mbps, while non-subscribers would get 0.5 Mbps. The Stack looks askance at the idea of public piggybacking on people’s personal WiFi hotspots. (Found via Slashdot.)

The plan seems to read as a combination of what Comcast and Cablevision have done, for home routers, and what Karma has done, for mobile hotspots, in the US. The plan has gotten both Comcast and Cablevision sued, after they made it difficult or impossible respectively for customers to disable the public WiFi aspect of their home routers. It seems that their existing customers didn’t like suddenly having public WiFi retrofitted to accounts that didn’t have it when they signed up.

Karma, on the other hand, has been completely forthright and open from the outset about the connection-sharing nature of their plans. If you don’t want to share your connection, you’re probably going to go with someone else—so no controversy there. (In fact, I’ve rather enjoyed sharing my Karma, though I do tend to feel a bit guilty when I notice someone joined a few minutes ago, when I was blocks away.)

Part of the driving force behind this public network plan seems to be the amount of time it’s taking for Britain to put 4G networks in. They look at having public WiFi widely available as a way to bridge the gap between slower 3G and faster 4G. Given that Virgin will be offering customers the option to opt out, unlike Comcast and Cablevision, they probably won’t be sued over it. Customers who do opt out will lose access to the public WiFi from others’ routers, however.


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