Access to the Internet has become both more important and more challenging for many in the time of COVID-19. People have a greater need for information — much of it available only via the web and Internet video. Videoconferencing and Internet chat are filling in for the real-life, face-to-face social interaction everyone needs to stay sane and healthy. But for many individuals without reliable home Internet service the traditional option of public wifi at libraries, coffee shops and other public spaces has evaporated in the face of shutdowns and physical distancing.
Pro-social Internet sharing. While the sharing of a home or business network with outside users is not something we’d typically recommend, during this COVID-triggered societal shutdown it may be a very pro-social thing to do. Think about the value an Internet connection for neighbours who may not have reliable Internet during this period of crisis. While Internet sharing will increase your risk a little, it could make a massive difference to the quality of life of those around you.
Guest Wifi. Most modern Wifi routers include an option to provide a “Guest Wifi” network in addition to your main Wifi. When the option is enabled, the router sets up a second Wifi signal that allows guests to connect to the Internet without seeing any of the devices on your internal network. The Guest Wifi has a different network name and password, allowing you to grant access while protecting the privacy and security of your internal network. This ‘firewall’ greatly reduces the risk associated with sharing your Internet.
Risks. Note however that there are still risks. A guest may abuse your connection by downloading excessively — reducing your own bandwidth or pushing you over data caps. A guest may download illegal content, creating a small legal risk. But you can minimize these risks by limiting distribution to a small number of neighbours and ensuring they understand your expectations.
How to. If you decide to share your Internet, take the following steps to minimize your risks:
- Log into your router and enable or configure the “Guest Wifi” access option. (Refer to the documentation or help for your router for detailed instructions.)
- Change or set the Guest Wifi password to something simple, memorable and easy to communicate. DO NOT leave it set to its default, to a previous password, or to the password you use for the primary Wifi.
- If you have an advanced router with anti-abuse or parental controls, consider activating those features to reduce the potential for connection abuse.
- If your router has connection logging features, enable the logging to allow later review in case of abuse.
- Print off the Guest Wifi name (SSID) and password, along with a warning for users not to abuse the connection. (See suggested Sample Text below.)
- Offer the guest access to your neighbours as graciously as possible, being careful not to stigmatize individuals by making or showing assumptions about means, income, skill, competence, etc.
- Log the distribution of network login information, so you know who you gave it to, and when.
- Create a reminder to yourself to disable Guest Wifi once the current situation is resolved.
Hi! This is _____ at _____. To help during the shutdown, we’ve opened up our guest wifi to help ensure close neighbours have working Internet service. This information is being sent to a small number of neighbouring homes in range of our wifi.
If you don’t have reliable Internet, please feel free to join our guest wifi. We ask that you:
- DO NOT share this login information with anyone else, unless you have our permission.
- DO NOT download illegal or copyrighted content. (For example, do not use torrent or illegal TV/movie sites.)
- Limit downloads and viewing to what you need. The guest wifi is shared with others, and everyone needs to use it responsibly to maintain adequate service.
- When doing data-intensive tasks such as software updates and installs, trying to schedule them for overnight or early morning.
- SSID: _____________________
- Password: ________________
FOR HELP OR INFORMATION, call ____________ at _____________________.
Stay home, stay safe.