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Terms of Service

© July 2006 Anthony Lawrence

If you are a residential user of broadband internet access, your ISP probably has terms of service that include prohibited uses like this (taken from Comcast's TOS):

run programs, equipment, or servers from the Premises that provide network content or any other services to anyone outside of your Premises LAN (Local Area Network), also commonly referred to as public services or servers. Examples of prohibited services and servers include, but are not limited to, e-mail, Web hosting, file sharing, and proxy services and servers;

The TOS almost certainly includes language restricting you from acting like an ISP (again from Comcast):

resell the Service or otherwise make available to anyone outside the Premises the ability to use the Service (i.e. wi-fi, or other methods of networking), in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, or on a bundled or unbundled basis. The Service is for personal and non-commercial use only and you agree not to use the Service for operation as an Internet service provider or for any business enterprise or purpose, or as an end-point on a non-Comcast local area network or wide area network;

In other words, you can't sell or even give away wi-fi access to your neighbors.

But we all know people do this. It's seldom with commercial intent; usually just a few friends and neighbors sharing a wi-fi connection. As for mail servers; well, pretty rare, but now and then a geekish type will put up a mail or ftp server behind a home connection. If the ISP blocks certain incoming ports, SSH forwarding or tunneling can bypass that. Are they going to "get in trouble"?

I think that's pretty unlikely. After all, what the ISP really cares about isn't that you are using a specific incoming port. Their concern is that you will take too much bandwidth. If you are sharing wi-fi with your neighbor, they might object to the lost business, too. But unless there is some other reason for them to to notice you and object to your use of their service, minor use of prohibited ports or letting someone else piggyback your wi-fi is likely unimportant.

On the outgoing side, some ISP's now block outgoing port 25 unless it is to their mail server. That's a anti-spam measure to prevent your machine from being a pest, but it is annoying for someone like me who has to test smtp manually now and then. Fortunately my current ISP doesn't do that to me.

Are you "violating" your ISP's TOS? Do you think you are likely to "get caught"? Does it matter?

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Sat Jul 15 15:20:26 2006: 2260   BigDumbDinosaur

If you are sharing wi-fi with your neighbor, they might object to the lost business, too.

In Illinois, such action is considered "theft of services" and could (in theory) land the offender in jail. I reread the service agreement I have with my ISP and they do prohibit "redistribution of service" beyond the premises in which the service is registered. In other words, I'd be violating the agreement if I strung a cable over to my neighbors' house and hooked them onto my Ethernet switch (which I'd never do -- I need all the bandwidth I can get).

One of the advantages of having a small family-owned ISP, as opposed to a Comcast or similar, is that they are much more flexible in regards to services that can be provided. For example, in order to keep my business and not have me shift to SDSL, the owner was willing to assign me several static IP addresses and not block any ports (they normally block outbound port 25 unless the destination is their SMTP server). Also, they arranged to set up a proper PTR record for each IP address, thus saving me from E-mail woes with domains that insist that the sending machine's IP address resolve back to the domain claimed during the MAIL FROM: sequence. None of this would have been possible with Comcast.

Sat Jul 15 15:58:48 2006: 2261   bruceg2004

"In other words, you can't sell or even give away wi-fi access to your neighbors."

Almost every where I have been (residental) has open WiFi, because people never setup WPA (or even the weaker WEP for that matter). WPA is so easy to setup; I simply grab a nice large password from grc.com/passwords (link dead, sorry) and away I go. But, most people do not realize how insecure WiFi is without security, and therefore leave their WAP wide open, for anyone to connect to. So, the are breaking their TOS without even knowing it!

- Bruce


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