Le Devoir has an article today claiming that Bell and Videotron deliberately ignore unusual increases in clients’ Internet bandwidth usage which might tell them that someone is gaining access to their connection without their knowledge.
The logic is simple: They can see clearly when bandwidth usage goes up, but they don’t warn the customer because they profit heavily off bandwidth overage charges.
Thing is, I’m not terribly convinced that’s the answer.
First of all, there’s an assumption that Internet Service Providers like high-bandwidth users. But they don’t. They hate peer-to-peer networks and other bandwidth-intensive activities. The vast majority of Internet users are well below their monthly quota, and the difference between the two is free bandwidth the companies are not eager to give away. There’s also the problem that a high-bandwidth user will slow the connections of other users on the network.
Secondly, I have no reason not to believe the providers’ PR-clouded appeal to their own laziness. They say they don’t have the resources to check every account for unusual activity (and if they do for one customer, they’ll be expected to do it for all). They’d have to hire tons of new people just to do this (and they won’t, of course; they’ll just pull people off technical and customer service). They’d have to do it on a schedule more often than once a month (because that’s when people are billed for excessive bandwidth use), and that’s really not feasible.
Similarly, the comparison with credit card companies and banks is a bit silly. These organizations deal directly with money, which is very important. You might get charged $30 for maxing out on bandwidth for one month, but it’s hardly the end of the world.
Finally, this isn’t an exact science. An increase in bandwidth usage might mean someone’s stealing your Wi-Fi, or it might mean your grandson is over for the holidays and is playing Halo 3 all day. And how many Wi-Fi leechers really run up the bandwidth meter anyway?
Just my two cents. (That doesn’t put me over the limit, right?)
My first dealing with Île Sans Fil came a few years ago when I was at Concordia. I was talking with this guy who had a crazy idea of setting up wireless hotspots all over the place and letting people connect to them for free.
Though I thought the cause noble, I had my doubts, chiefly because Internet service providers were against the idea of people sharing their access. It put more strain on bandwidth and removed a layer of accountability. Concordia, which had strict rules about sharing Internet access because it had a fat pipe and didn’t regulate bandwidth, didn’t let them set up.
So they went elsewhere. Coffee shops in the plateau were helpful, because it would give the young early adopters of this Wi-Fi thing a reason to come to their shops and order coffee. The network expanded and now it has hotspots all over the city.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking with Evan Prodromou at Caffè Art Java (an ISF hotspot), interviewing him for an article that will hopefully come out before I have grandchildren. He briefly said hi to a friend of his from ISF and mentioned that they’re finally, after all this time, talking to the City of Montreal about municipally-backed hotspots.
Today, it looks like those talks were fruitful. La Presse’s Tristan Peloquin has the scoop through a document
ISF handed to him that was obtained by him yesterday. The city will be offering the group $200,000 a year for five years to setup and run 400 wireless hotspots in public areas of the city, including Place des Arts and all 17 nature parks in Montreal, (parks like Mount Royal Park, Jean-Drapeau, Angrignon Park, Cap St. Jacques, Ile Bizard, Lafontaine Park, Maisonneuve Park and Jarry Park).
The proposal still has to be presented to the executive committee, who will have the last word.
UPDATE: The slide presentation about the project is online (PDF)
An article at NowPublic asserts that 24% of Montreal’s wireless networks are unsecured. The study, under the supervision of Champlain College Saint-Lambert professor Marc André Léger, showed that the number was down from the 31% showed in a similar study in May in St. Lambert.
(He’s assuming that there’s no significant difference between wireless networks in St. Lambert and in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where the second study was performed, and considering the demographics of the two areas, particularly in terms of income, that’s a pretty big assumption to make.)
The article also notes that the study appears to make no distinction between unsecured home networks (where someone just bought home a wireless router, left the default settings on and never thought about security) and unencrypted networks that perform security authorization in some other way (Ile sans fil, as well as most commercial networks, allow you to connect freely to the network, but won’t allow you to access anything but their own servers until you login, sign up, purchase service or just click a button below a user agreement).
Without that very important distinction, the survey is kind of meaningless to me.