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Cable company converts home cable modems into public Wi-Fi hot spots

Lawsuit alleges the move will increase power bills, cause slower internet

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Christal Hayes has been living in her east Orlando home for about a year and had no idea her home Internet could be accessed by anyone nearby.

[WEB EXTRA: How to shut down your public hotspot ]

That's right. A complete stranger without cable can pay Comcast by the week, day or hour to log in to her home modem. And existing Comcast customers can user her internet for free.

"I never got anything, at least from my knowledge, in the mail about anything that was going on," she said. "So the fact that they're allowing this to happen and they don't even give their customers notice is unbelievable to me."

Comcast said it did send customers notices that in addition to their password-protected hot spot, a second public hotspot called "Xfinity Wi-Fi" was activated on their modems. But many customers, like Hayes, don't remember getting it, and some, may not have thought it was important and just threw it away.

Local 6 showed Hayes how easy it was to log on to her home modem.

"You did that in like two seconds, and you accessed my internet and everything," she said.

According to a lawsuit filed by a customer in California, people like Hayes are stuck paying an additional $20 to $30 dollars in electricity costs annually – even if no one uses the hotspot. And if a stranger does hop on, the electricity costs climb another 30 to 40 percent, according to the suit. 

"Our power bill's enough as it is," Hayes said. "We live in Florida. It's hot. If anyone is using my power it should be me."

Comcast disagrees with the allegation in the lawsuit. But while its modem is built "to support robust usage," the company admits sharing one modem can have "some impact" on WiFi speed as more devices share the network. Comcast stands by its decision to create a bigger hot spot network and says "it provides real benefits to our customers."

The lawsuit raises security concerns.

"Since Comcast uses the Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot to allow strangers to connect to the Internet through the same wireless router used by Comcast customers in their homes, the data and information on a Comcast customer's network is at greater risk," according to the lawsuit.

But Comcast says it committed to making customers' Wi-Fi experience as safe as possible, and has strong security measures in place. Even though both hot spots come from the same home modem, guests on the public hotspot, like a babysitter, can't access the private user's home network, according to the company.

As for Hayes, she wasn't comfortable keeping her modem's public WiFi hotspot online.

"I'd definitely be interested in turning it off -- right now!" Hayes said.

So Local 6 walked her through the steps Comcast published for its customers who want to turn it off. And with a few strokes of a keyboard, she shut off strangers from accessing her internet.

According to Comcast, less than one percent of its customers have chosen to shut the public feature off so far.

Bright House Networks, which has a larger local customer base than Comcast, does not have a similar feature, according to a Bright House spokesperson.