Is it OK to Share my WiFi? (Clearwire)

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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With the growth of wireless Internet and various sharing services, the question arises: is it OK to intentionally share your connection with other people? For more background, read the first post in this series about sharing WiFi, and covering Comcast. (Note: please do not rely on this for legal advice. I am a law student, not a lawyer, and certainly not your lawyer.)

From Clearwire’s Acceptable Use Policy:

11. Use of Your Account by Others. You may not, through action or inaction, allow others to use the Service for illegal or improper activities or for any purpose or in any manner prohibited by this AUP. You may not permit your network, through action or inaction, to be configured in such a way that gives a third party the capability to use the Service in an illegal or improper manner or for any purpose or in any manner prohibited by this AUP.

The sentence I emphasized above is very interesting. It suggests that, for example, you could be violating the AUP if you do not secure your access point, or even if you give a third-party access in any manner whatsoever. This is true even if the person with whom you share does not violate the AUP or do anything illegal or improper. Simply permitting others the possibility of such action is sufficient to trigger this provision. That said, however, it looks to me like Clearwire is concerned less with legal and proper use of the service by third parties than with copyright infringement, illegal behavior, spamming, etc. (See other parts of the AUP.)

12. Reselling. You may not directly or indirectly reproduce, duplicate, copy, sell, provision, resell, rent, lend, pledge, transfer, distribute or exploit any portion of the Service without Clearwire’s prior written consent.

#12 ties in nicely with similar provisions of Comcast: Clearwire doesn’t want you to profit by reselling their service, unless they agree to it in writing. (Pretty obvious, really.) I expect, given this language, that even asking your neighbors to pay part of the fee would fall into this category, and would likely run afoul of this provision. So if you share, it should be out of your own boundless generosity, not as a means to recoup costs.

Finally, what can Clearwire do if you violate their AUP?

In the event that you violate this AUP, Clearwire may, without limitation, restrict your access to Clearwire’s network, increase the fees associated with your Service, including upgrading you to a higher class of Service, or immediately suspend or terminate your Service.

Note that even if they permit your sharing now, and then decide later on that your neighbor’s access is a violation of the AUP, that’s OK. In other words, they can change their minds later:

Waiver of any violation of this AUP by Clearwire shall not act as a waiver of any subsequent violation, nor shall it be deemed to be a waiver of the underlying obligation or term. No failure or delay by Clearwire in exercising any right or remedy hereunder will operate as a waiver thereof, nor will any single or partial exercise of any right or remedy preclude any other or further exercise thereof or the exercise of any other right or remedy.

Finally, a last note from this section:

You are solely responsible for all content that you transmit or receive utilizing the Service, and are responsible for abuse of your account by others.

This is interesting, especially the reminder that you “are responsible for abuse of your account by others.” But bear in mind a critical fact: this only applies to your contract with Clearwire. So while this may seem to imply that someone who breaks into your account and downloads child pornography makes you liable, that isn’t true, since this section only applies to the AUP, not other laws (criminal laws, for example). But, Clearwire could terminate your account if this happens, although I suspect this would be more likely to happen if you were intentionally leaving open your access point (versus someone breaking your WEP key).

So, in summary, if you are sharing with responsible people you trust, Clearwire may well not bother you, but they have every right to terminate your service once you start sharing with “third parties” like your neighbors, given #11, above. And don’t ask for money: that clearly violates #12. In short, if you do share, do it for free.

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