What is the Open Wireless Movement?
Imagine a future with ubiquitous open Internet.
We envision a world where, in any urban environment:
- Dozens of open networks are available at your fingertips.
- Tablets, watches, and other new devices can automatically join these networks to do nifty things.
- The societal expectation is one of sharing, and, as a result, wireless Internet is more efficient.
- The false notion that an IP address could be used as a sole identifier is finally a thing of the past, creating a privacy-enhancing norm of shared networks.
We're working with advocates to help change the way people and businesses think about Internet service.
The Open Wireless Movement is a coalition of Internet freedom advocates, companies, organizations, and technologists working to develop new wireless technologies and to inspire a movement of Internet openness. We are aiming to build technologies that would make it easy for Internet subscribers to portion off their wireless networks for guests and the public while maintaining security, protecting privacy, and preserving quality of access.
We're also teaching the world about the many benefits of open wireless in order to help society move away from closed networks and to a world in which openness is the default. Our efforts follow the opinion of nationally recognized computer security expert Bruce Schneier, who considers maintaining an open wireless node a matter of "basic politeness":
Whenever I talk or write about my own security setup, the one thing that surprises people—and attracts the most criticism—is the fact that I run an open wireless network at home. There's no password. There's no encryption. Anyone with wireless capability who can see my network can use it to access the internet.
To me, it's basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea.
We're working together to advocate for a world where the Internet will be available to more people while also using the spectrum more efficiently. And we are working to debunk myths (and confront truths) about open wireless while creating technologies and legal precedent to ensure it is safe, private, and legal to open your network.
If you're an open wireless supporter, embed a widget onto your site. And if you're an organization or independent advocate willing to actively contribute to the Movement, send an introductory email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Everyone can stay abreast of happenings at the Open Wireless Movement by following our blog. Press inquiries? Email email@example.com.
Reasons for Open Wireless
- It will bring about a new era of innovation +Having ubiquitous open wireless networks will make amazing new technologies possible. Today, if a device needs to depend on always having an Internet connection, it must be bundled with an expensive 3G or 4G mobile data plan, and the inventors need to get permission from phone companies before they can innovate.
As we saw with the Internet itself, innovation grows as barriers to entry shrink, especially eliminating the need to beg permission from established companies. Open wireless will allow innovators to imagine what they can do with always-on, cheap connectivity regardless of where a person is physically.
With open wireless, not only would existing devices like the WiFi iPad or Kindle Fire be much more useful, but entirely new kinds of innovative gadgets would become possible and practical. Want a phone that just uses Skype, or a free/open source encrypted online phone system? Suddenly possible. Want a wristwatch that always shows the time, weather, and other information from the Internet? Done. How about a quadcopter that navigates by WiFi? Or even a video uplink for your dog?
We won't know what unexpected but awesome new innovations are practical until we can get open wireless networks everywhere!
- It benefits businesses and economic development +The public benefits of Open Wireless have been expressed at the local level.
Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson called his city's wireless network "a beneficial economic development tool" that can "enhance tourism in our great city."
Cleveland City Councilman Kevin J. Kelley, commenting on the development of open wireless access in his ward, stated that the effort "is about giving our children an advantage; it is about providing opportunity to every resident in this ward."
And Dennis Newman, the Chief Information Officer of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, similarly explained that the city's municipal wireless has "made downtown appealing to those who want to come and sit at a coffee table or outside."
It just makes sense. A world where people always have their online services and social networking tools at hand is a world where both businesses and municipalities can better lure people out from behind their desks.
- It is crucial to user privacy +Mobile phones are tracking beacons. Not only do they broadcast the location of their users with some degree of accuracy whenever they're turned on, but phone companies keep records of every text message and call you make with them. Just as alarmingly, many wireless carriers think it is okay to record every web page you look at by default to use for advertising (or possibly other) purposes.
So smartphones are actually spy phones. But they don't need to be. If we had enough open wireless networks available, we could change that. Startup companies—and open source projects—could make devices that used the open networks without reporting your location and communications to phone companies. Devices that skip smoothly from one open wireless network to another don't provide the kind of granular information about your intimate activities that the current single-carrier systems do. We have two choices: let mobile privacy stay dead forever, or build an alternative open wireless future.
- It benefits emergency services +As the FCC has reported, "Wi-Fi networks are demonstrating their importance in homeland security measures," specifically noting that "the Minneapolis Wi-Fi network aided rescue workers following the collapse of the I-35 bridge." The Department of Homeland Security even funded an open wireless network along Interstate 19 in Arizona, designed primarily for emergency services and the Border Patrol, but also intending to later provide access for community services and residents.
In Italy, after a deadly earthquake, authorities called for residents to open up their wireless networks so rescue workers and those in trouble could have access to communications systems.
- It conserves a scarce public resource: radio spectrum +Because wireless devices send signals over a shorter distance and at lower power than cellular towers, it allows more people to use the same frequency at the same time in the same geographic area. This also avoids congestion on cellular networks. More efficient use of the radio spectrum is an important reason why public policy should favor protecting and encouraging open wireless.
- It helps bridge the digital divide +A significant segment of the population has little to no access to broadband. Open wireless networks serve to extend the benefits of the Internet to those who cannot otherwise afford it. Though the Open Wireless Movement cannot alone substitute for broad policy changes needed to get everyone fast, reliable Internet access, it does encourage a culture of sharing.
- It helps travelers and passersby +In a world where web-based services are king, Internet connectivity will be increasingly essential for doing work and managing our day-to-day life. Yet millions of travelers every year experience intermittent or unreliable service for long stretches of time while roaming the globe, creating a huge and consistent headache for people and hurting our economy. A robust Open Wireless Movement will mitigate difficulties travelers experience by giving them easy, reliable, and free options for accessing the web from almost any location where others are connected.
Myths and Facts About Open Wireless
- Doesn't opening my wireless network reward "freeloaders"? +No way! Most wireless networks use only a small fraction of their capacity. Sharing capacity helps everyone, eliminates waste, and increases the efficiency of the network. And it has nothing to do with freeloaders—if you've ever been without Internet access and needed to check an email, you will remember how useful open networks can be in a pinch.
- Is opening my network a security risk? +If you are running an open network, it is NOT the case that anyone can break into your computer, and you are still, by and large, in a safe situation. If you are running a separate “guest” network apart from your primary network, you have no reason to worry. If you are running an open wireless network as your primary home network, it is important that you understand whether or not your network is set up to allow sharing, or if you can enable wireless isolation to create a firewall between users on the network so that sharing is not possible. If your network is set up to allow sharing, then you should be aware that users of your open network might be able to use devices that are attached to the network, e.g. printers, smart TVs, etc. Moreover, if your computer is set to share files over the network, those files will be accessible to anyone on your network. So if you are running an open network, and don't want strangers printing things or reading your network files, it is important to research whether you can disable sharing on your network, or to carefully check the sharing settings for each computer or device attached to the network.
Understanding why open networks are generally safe for users requires a little more background. Websites and services that take security seriously use transport layer encryption—most notably Transport Layer Security (TLS), which underlies HTTPS. Using transport layer encryption is the gold standard for security. Since it encrypts data between your computer and the web service you are using, TLS provides a strong level of communication security whether or not you are on an open wireless network. It protects against snooping and attacks from anyone who can read the traffic passing between your computer and the website you are visiting, such as ISPs and governments as well as people on your local wireless network. The security gain from using HTTPS as much as possible is quite significant. This is why we encourage everyone to use our HTTPS Everywhere browser extension.
On the other hand, WPA2 and other Wi-Fi security schemes protect only against an attacker on your local network, and provide only nominal protection. Very often, "securing" your wireless network will not be enough to thwart a determined attacker on your local network from being able to read and manipulate your data. Therefore, the security loss from moving to an open wireless network is less significant than you might realize, especially if you set up your network to firewall users from each other—as we recommend in our tutorials whenever possible.
Even if WPA2 and other Wi-Fi security schemes are far from perfect and TLS is a much more comprehensive technological solution for security, we are strong advocates for security at EFF and are working toward longer-term open wireless solutions that provide link-layer security comparable to WPA2 for open networks. Savvy network operators who are concerned about security can also set up their open networks to use a VPN service, if they have access to such a service or are willing to pay for access.
- Will opening my network make me liable for others' illegal actions? +This one is a bit more complicated, but the short answer is, "We don't think so." Click here to find out more.
- Will opening my wireless network slow down my Internet connection? +For users whose routers give them the option of running a second "guest network" that is open, this should not slow down your primary network. We currently have a series of tutorials for how to set these networks up. In the meantime, if your router doesn't have this option, you still will most likely be able to open your network without any noticeable slowdown. Most networks have far more capacity than is used at any given time, and it is unlikely that your guests' usage will affect your experience on the Internet. However, the best test for this is an empirical one: try running an open network! If your open network is noticeably slower and you have some technical know-how, you could try figuring out if there are any power users slowing it down and ban those users, or you could simply revert to a protected network.
- Terms of Service considerations +Unfortunately, the Terms of Service for many (but not all) ISPs currently have sections that may prohibit users from running an open wireless network. These Terms of Service are generally written very broadly and often purport to prohibit a lot of behaviors that many users engage in regularly—not just open wireless. As part of our movement, we call on ISPs to explicitly permit—and even promote—open wireless.
For users who prefer not to run the risk of violating Terms of Service, other options exist. You might consider switching ISPs or looking into the possibility of upgrading your account to a premium or corporate account where running an open wireless network is not prohibited. Also, give your ISP feedback. Voicing your dissatisfaction with unfavorable Terms of Service is also a good way to combat the proliferation of overly limiting conditions and to help ISPs see market opportunities.
- ISPs that support open wireless +Below are some ISPs that don't forbid running an open wireless connection in their Terms of Service. This list is based on an informal survey and may be out of date or incorrect. We encourage you to seek out ISPs that respect your rights by offering customers the flexibility to open their wireless networks, and this list is a great place to start. (Last updated: July 22, 2014)
- Earthlink (National)
- HughesNet (National)
- Netwood Communications (National)
- Windstream (National)
- Widomaker (National, Regional - Virginia)
- CTI Networks (Regional - Pennsylvania)
- Great Basin (Regional - California, Nevada)
- Integra Telecom (Regional - Western US)
- Sonic.net (Regional - California)
- AtlasOK (Regional - NE Oklahoma)
- Garden Valley Telephone Company (Regional - NW Minnesota)
- HiPoint (Local - Chicago)
- LMI (Local - Berkeley)
- MonkeyBrains (Local - Eastern San Francisco)
The more the merrier. Do you know another ISP that promotes (or doesn't forbid) running an open wireless network? Let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it. And if you're an ISP looking to woo new, liberty-loving customers, email email@example.com so we can discuss it with you and get your company listed.
Changes? We strive to keep this list as up to date as possible. If there are changes to an ISP's terms of service or availability of service that affect this list, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- How to enable the guest networking feature on your router +Newer routers often have a guest networking feature. We have written up easy how-to guides to help you set up an open wireless system on your router.
- What about captive portals? +Oftentimes, logging onto an open wireless network in an airport or cafe takes you to a login page where you either have to enter your credentials or click an "I agree" button (agreeing to certain terms of service) before being connected to the Internet. This is known as a captive portal (or a catch-and-release).
The Open Wireless Movement seeks to create an environment where devices can connect to "openwireless.org" networks seamlessly and easily; captive portals, which are a barrier between the user and a connection, are the antithesis of good design for openness.
Captive portals interfere with Internet security and protocol innovation—and the efficiency that lies at the heart of the Open Wireless Movement—without providing many benefits, and we discourage their use, especially for networks named "openwireless.org"