In a Thursday New York Times op-ed, Brooklyn College professor Helen Rubinstein proudly confessed that she stole her neighbors’ internet for five years. Time Warner warns that the frugality that she boasted about in print may cost her.
“It may have been unfair, but I don’t believe I was stealing: the owners’ leaving their networks password-free was essentially a gift, an ethereal gesture of kindness” wrote Rubinstein.
According to the website for Time Warner Cable, which provides cable access in New York, what Rubinstein did was a crime.
Not only is unauthorized access to wireless networks a crime, being neighborly and allowing for it is as well, according to Time Warner.
“WiFi theft occurs when someone installs a wireless network in a residence or business location and intentionally enables others to receive broadband service for free over their wireless network.”
Time Warner cites a federal statute stating that “No person shall intercept or receive or assist in intercepting or receiving any communications service offered over a cable system, unless specifically authorized to do so by a cable operator.”
Violators of this statue for purposes of “private financial gain” can fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up to 2 years on first offense. A second offense can lead to a fine of $100,000 or 5 years in jail.
In addition to major criminal penalties, Time Warner cites the statute as enabling civil charges entitling “any person aggrieved” to “a sum of not less than $250 or more than $10,000 as the court considers just.” The names of the internet networks that Rubinstein utilized were listed in her op-ed, including the most recent one, Belkin_G-Plus_MIMO.
By a few months ago, the professor’s neighbors had all password-protected their wireless networks.
Paying for her own internet “seemed wasteful” Rubinstein wrote, when there existed a “cloud of 20 or so wireless networks that were already humming around my apartment. “
Rubinstein’s confession of internet freeganism concluded with an expression of hope for free internet, be it provided nationally or by a friendly neighbor. She wrote that she is now paying for her internet access.