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Bootleggers bring broadband to some neighborhoods


Gannett News Service

Dan Richardson had a backyard party at his Portland, Ore., home this month. Besides chips and dip, Richardson offered free high-speed Internet access to anyone within two city blocks who owned a laptop or PC with a wireless connection.

Richardson, 31, is among a growing number of mostly young, tech-savvy people who use wireless devices and inexpensive radio antennas to share their high-speed cable modem or DSL (digital subscriber line) connections with the surrounding neighborhood — a practice called broadband bootlegging.

Such high-speed Internet zones or "nodes" are popping up in New York City, Seattle and other cities. Many are located near places where people socialize, such as parks and coffeehouses.

At least for now, it isn't illegal to broadcast a high-speed connection so others can share it, and unless an Internet service provider's contract prohibits sharing, there's nothing to stop people from doing it, said Cynthia Brumfield, president of Broadband Intelligence Inc. in Bethesda, Md. But if broadband sharing gets out of hand, service providers may develop technology to monitor and crack down on the hobby, she added.

Node enthusiasts say they do not consider themselves Robin Hoods. They say they are visionaries who want to make fast Internet connections available to everybody, everywhere, all the time.

Richardson said he thinks wireless connection sharing will take off because "it's kind of the future," referring to a time when he believes wireless networks will be common in every building and neighborhood.

For now, he added, "As long as you don't resell it, its perfectly legit."

Tapping into a broadband node is easy and relatively inexpensive, provided you already own a laptop or desktop PC. What's more, it could save you $30 to $50 a month for a broadband connection. Here is what to do.

  • If you don't already have one, buy a wireless network adapter. They're available for about $100 to $150 from companies, such as Apple (www.apple.com), D-Link (www.dlink.com), Linksys (www.linksys.com) and NETGEAR (www.netgear.com).

  • Find a high-speed node in your area. The Personal Telco group's Web site (www.personaltelco.net) lists about 20 nodes in Portland, Ore. NYCWireless, an organization of young volunteers in New York City (www.nycwireless.net), plans to have 15 in operation within weeks, according Anthony Townsend, 27, the group's spokesman.

  • Once you've moved into range of a network node, set your wireless card to find any available network and connect.

    Broadband bootlegging doesn't come without pitfalls, which is why East Coast telecommunications giant Verizon is not "incredibly concerned" about it, said Bobbi Hennessey, a company spokesman.

    She said PC users who share their cable or DSL connections wirelessly leave their computers open to attack by hackers. She also said such sharing can dramatically slow down surfing speeds.

    Hennessey also said that bootleggers could be held responsible if someone piggybacking onto their Internet line uses it to download child pornography or send spam. That's because authorities will be able to trace the activity back to the bootlegger's computer, not necessarily their guests or neighbors.


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