Consumer group blasts cable operators’ WiFi roaming deal

Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications, and Time Warner Cable announced the new product, called "CableWiFi," on Monday, the first day of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's Cable Show in Boston, Mass. They said the product would enable each company’s broadband customers to access each other's Wi-Fi hot spots.

Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner had been offering a similar service since 2010 in the New York and Philadelphia metro areas. Bright House and Cablevision also recently launched a similar product earlier this month.

Feld said the shared broadband deal argued against a proposal to allow major cable companies to sell wireless provider Verizon spectrum and cross-sell each other’s services, a plan public interest groups say would create an anticompetitive cartel.

"Wi-Fi offers the opportunity for these companies to compete with wireless providers such as Verizon wireless, using Wi-Fi roaming to build a rival footprint that could offer a cheaper alternative to consumers who find their iPads and smartphones constrained by aggressive bandwidth caps," he said.

"Cable companies said they need the Verizon deal because they can't compete by offering a wireless service," Feld added. "This new arrangement says they can, if they want to."

Feld called on regulators to block the proposed Verizon deal.

"The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Department of Justice (DoJ) should not allow the cable operators and Verizon Wireless to chose collusion over competition simply because cable operators today offer wireless competition through their Wi-fi footprint instead of a traditional licensed network," he said.

Spokespersons for Verizon had no comment on today's announcement or the Public Knowledge release.