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Wi-Fi Woes May Await Companies that Offer Free Access


Offering free Wi-Fi access can help a small business attract and keep customers , but it’s not without risk, a national small business association warns. Unless a business takes precautions to prevent them from illegally downloading copyrighted material, those customers may cause more trouble than they're worth.

In a deal with the major entertainment media companies that has been years in the making, the leading Internet service providersagreed this month to a uniform procedure for notifying customers about repeated instances of digital copyright infringement.

Though it doesn't apply to commercial businesses, small businesses that offer free Wi-Fi in their waiting areas, such as a coffee shops, motels or even car mechanics, should be aware of the issue and take steps to ensure that their customers aren't using the service to steal content, warned the National Federation of Independent Business.

Residential users whose accounts are allegedly used for piracy will receive at least five alert notices from their Internet ervice provider.Internet ervice provider After the fifth notice, the ISP may take certain "mitigation measures" to stop the alleged piracy, including reducing Internet speeds or redirecting traffic to a special landing page until the customer contacts the ISP to discuss the issue.

"This could potentially be an issue for home-based businesses or small businesses whose owners are using residential accounts for whatever reason," said Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for NFIB. "Regardless, it’s a good idea for small businesses to take precautions to prevent customers or even employees from using their Internet connection to steal content."

One easy way to discourage Wi-Fi abuse is for businesses toto require a password forfor non-customers, Milito said. They could print a password on the receipt and change it periodically, to prevent non-customers from using the service.

Businesses can also block access to certain websites and types of websites.

"This requires a little bit of know-how on the part of the small-business owner, and it may accidentally block access to legitimate websites, but it also can discourage people from using a business' network to steal content," Milito said. "With more and more people carrying smartphones and even tablets, free Wi-Fi can help a small business attract and keep customers, but unless a business owner uses common sense and takes precautions, those customers could come at a hefty price."



Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.



Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.