This article first appeared on the Foodsmatter blog in September 2013.
Do you have a new, super-fast, super-wonderful BT Infinity Fibre Optic broadband package which downloads (and indeed uploads) everything at the speed of light? If so, I am sure you are very pleased with it. We are with ours.
And in all the promotional bumph which no doubt came your way with your new system, did BT tell you about their fantastic network of over five million wifi hotspots all over the UK and freely available to BT Infinity customers? Virtually anywhere you find yourself in the UK, you will be able to log on via a BT Hot Spot and 'connect'. Great ! So much more efficient than Boris' wi-fi enabled lamp-posts lining the streets of the City of London. If you want to know more, they tell you here on the BT site:
'Our wi-fi is totally free and unlimited at places like Starbucks, Welcome Break, Hilton, Network Rail, shopping centres, 12 major city centres and more.' Gosh, five million Starbucks and Welcome Breaks – I knew there were a lot of them, but five million?……
Well, no, there aren't five million cafés, hotels and railways stations, but, if you count all of us who have signed up to BT, there probably are five million BT users with BT hubs installed to enable their new super-fast broad band. And what BT do not actually tell you on their 'hot spot' page, is that the majority of their hotspots live in the BT hubs installed in their private customers' (yours and my) living rooms, halls and studies. Given that the hot spot takes minimal band width (too small for you to notice or to affect your costs) and that the hubs are extremely widely spread even in relatively low population density areas, it is an extremely efficient, low-cost, low-energy way to provide on-line access to huge areas and huge numbers of people. Fantastic!
But, there is just one problem. (Well, actually, there are two but let us deal with the main one first.)
What happens if you do not want, for whatever reason, to use wifi? Although it is massively convenient, there is an ever growing mountain of evidence suggesting that exposure to low level electromagnetic radiation, such as wifi, may have all kinds of very serious, population-wide health implications. Some people already react very badly and are made seriously ill by radiation from wifi, mobile phones etc. Some people just prefer using wired connections on the grounds of efficiency – more reliable and better signal.
The BT Infinity system, like other similar BT, Virgin etc systems, comes with wifi automatically enabled, but it does allow you to go into the hub and turn off your own wifi access so that you use only wired, ethernet connections.* But, within that hub there is a second connection – the one which connects you with the hot-spot network – and turning off your own internal wifi connections does not disconnect you from the hotspot network.
Now, of itself, there is nothing wrong with this. But what is wrong with it is that BT do not make this clear to you. They do not tell you, when you sign up for Infinity, that you will be automatically connected (opted in) to their hot-spot network (BT Openzone); they do not tell you that turning off your own internal wifi does not disconnect you from the Openzone network and, even if you are techie enough to have got this far, they do not tell you how to disconnect yourself from that network. Well, they do but in such an obscure and roundabout way that, unless you had spent two hours scanning the site and knowing exactly what you were looking for (as I just have) you would never find it. See below **
Now, for the average BT customer, this is simply not an issue. But for someone who is either already electrosensitive or who is concerned about out excessive use of low level electromagnetic devices, then it is very much an issue as it means that they are being bathed, 24/7 in that very radiation that they are anxious to escape. The situation for them is exactly the same as having a smart meter installed or using a standard hands free telephone: wireless signals are being transmitted continuously throughout their living and sleeping space and they cannot escape them. But whereas in the case of the smart meter or the hands-free phone, they know about it and may be able to take some avoiding action, in the case of the hot-spot hubs they do not even know about it so can take no avoiding action at all.
This also begs the question – problem number two – of whether BT has any right to install this system, using our hubs for which we pay, without specifically asking and getting out permission, regardless of whether or not being bathed in wifi signals 24 hours a day is harmful.
The very least that they should be doing is to make both the information about the the Openzone network, and especially how to opt out, easily available on their Infinity site and through their customer service lines. Obviously, to do so would run the risk that a larger number of customers would choose to do so, thereby reducing their hot-spot network coverage but that, in my book, is a risk that we have every right to expect them to have to take.
* Finding how to turn off even your internal wifi is not easy – I could not find any form of words to enter into the 'Help' box which came up with useful instructions. Finally, via a forum I got this:
Once you are set up you will be given a link to your home page.
Once you get there you will be asked to change a default admin password and then you should be able to follow instructions to disable your wifi.' Good luck!
**On the free BT Wi-fi page mentioned above, if you spool down to the very bottom, just above the ads you will find a small drop down box called 'The legal stuff'. If you open it it tells you about 'Unlimited BT wifi minutes and sends you to another site, www.bt.com/btwifi, for details. Once you get there it offers you the option to check how many wifi minutes you have used and to check 'whether your BT home hub is opted in' and tells you, slightly obscurely, what this means. You click also through to yet another screen where you can enter your BTinternet address and password you will be able to disconnect yourself.
Alternatively you could have got to this screen rather more easily by logging in to their dedicated BT Openzone site, called BT Fon – but to do that you have, of course, to know about the existence of BT Fon!
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First Published December 2009
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