Great broadband internet costs a small fortune unless you’re blessed to live in a location that has a decent Fibre service for sub-$US100 ($152) prices. (If so, do you need a roommate?)
I live in Silicon Valley, which means I’m stuck with Comcast and have to fork over $US100 ($152)/mo to enjoy super-fast service that’s limited to 1TB of total downloads—$US150 ($228)/mo, if I want to pay Comcast for the extra privilege of using as much of its data as I want. These kinds of fees are enough to make anyone want to find a creative way to share the cost, and Lifehacker reader Fitz proposed one fun idea in a recent email:
Is there a way my neighbor and I can share a common broadband. Will it work if I take the ethernet cable from his router and connect it in my router’s WAN port? Also, will I need a router with a modem if my neighbor’s router already has it?
Technically, that plan could work. Make sure you’ve taken the time to enable your router’s access point mode (or otherwise disabled DHCP and its firewall), and your devices will receive their IP addresses from your neighbour’s router—much as they otherwise would if you were connecting your cable modem to your router directly, when it’s set up as a regular router. And, no, you don’t need a cable modem with a built-in router.
However, this larger plan to share your neighbour’s internet service has a few hitches. First off, you’ll want to make sure you get a high-quality Ethernet cable that’s rated to give you top speeds for whatever distance you have to cover between your neighbour’s house and yours. (I’m assuming this is a house-to-house plan, not an apartment-to-apartment deal.) That’ll probably be a weatherproof Cat 6 cable, at least, which will set you back around $US50 ($76) for 100 feet of cable.
The Cat 6 spec maxes out at 328 feet for gigabit speeds; any longer and you’re risking performance issues—or the connection not working at all. So if you and your neighbour have a lot of ground to cover, you might want to invest in a high-powered wireless bridge setup instead (which will undoubtedly cost more).
Even if you go the Ethernet route, which I’d recommend, I hope you’ve found a novel way to string the cable between your two houses so it won’t accidentally get cut, snipped, or otherwise messed with. And, of course, should that cable ever fail, you’re going to have to restring it between your houses—which might be a pain in the arse. I like using cables more than a wireless connection whenever possible, but this might be one instance where the latter, if powerful enough, is worth the convenience.
Now, assuming you’ve set up the physical connections, there are two more issues you might want to think about. The first is security. Do you trust your neighbour? Do you trust your neighbour to not insert some sort of man-in-the-middle setup or a packet sniffer on the network they control and use that to dig up your passwords, log what you’re doing, and otherwise cause chaos in your digital life? I suspect this won’t be an issue in most circumstances, but the general rule you should keep in mind is that using your neighbour’s connection basically makes you a user on their network, and there is plenty that they can do to ruin your day—even something as simple as slapping bandwidth controls or deprioritizing any connected devices that aren’t theirs. I’d run all my traffic through a VPN in this scenario, but that might affect your speeds and be annoying to deal with.
Second, there’s that bandwidth cap issue I teased earlier. If you’re on Comcast, or using any other provider that gives you a monthly service cap, you’re going to need to investigate if you can remove that (by upping your service tier or possibly paying an extra monthly fee). If not, you and your neighbour are going to have to watch your web traffic like hawks, since now two households will be sharing the data limit that’s normally designed for one. And neither of you probably wants to be surprised with a huge bill because the other one downloaded way too much in a month.
Speaking of, what happens when your neighbour’s kid decides to go wild and BitTorrent everything they can find without using a VPN to hide their activity? Are you and your neighbour both willing to risk (and accept) that whatever each of you does on your shared connection might impact, or ruin, both houses’ experience? Is your neighbour willing to accept the ramifications of anything you do on the internet that is now associated with their account?
Beyond that, what if there’s an issue with the internet while your neighbour is away for the day—or the weekend, or a month-long vacation? Will they give you permission to enter your house and reset the router or cable modem? Is it even possible to add you to the account as an “authorised” user, in case you need to contact the ISP directly for service?
And what happens if your neighbour doesn’t stay on top of device or firmware updates? What if some kind of malware on their end of things uses your shared network to hijack your information or otherwise cause chaos on your systems?
This whole idea—while great for saving money—also likely violates your ISP’s terms of service. You might get away with it, but I also don’t want to think about what happens if, or when, they get pissed for theft of service (or however they’d describe it).
I’m not saying don’t do this, because I’m all for sticking it to the man, especially when most internet providers nowadays are looking to nickel-and-dime you as much as they can. However, there are serious concerns that come with sharing internet service with your neighbour. Think about them before you go forward with this plan. (Let me know how things work out if you give it a try!)
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