By Kelline Linton, Chief Copy Editor
When I moved into University Park Apartments two years ago, I enjoyed the free Internet access but not its limited availability. One Ethernet port, a short Ethernet cord and lack of wireless Internet frustrated me. Several days into this predicament, I powered up my laptop and sniffed the air for Wi-Fi signals. Against all hope, I found them – delectable data ready for plucking. As I connected to an unsecure network, I became more than a nuisance for one of my neighbors. I became a criminal, forced into an illegal action by a backwater, technologically crippled system.
Mooching another person’s Wi-Fi does constitute a criminal act; it violates Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code, which covers anybody who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” Of course, this law was passed in 1986, the same year I was born, but it actually still applies.
Last year a man in Cedar Springs, Mich., was fined $400 after a police officer spotted him stealing someone’s Wi-Fi from inside his car, according to Time magazine.
But the threat of fines could not stop me. Throughout the school year, I curled up on my living room couch and got online via the unsecured wireless networks of my neighbors. Although leaving networks open can put the owners’ personal data at risk, I only wanted their bandwidth. And while my browsing periodically may have slowed down my neighbors’ connection, I was desperate for the Net’s sweet nectar.
UP policy states residents cannot use routers, but my apartment building was chock-full of wireless networks with names like WiiFi, Belkin54g and linksys. And I took full advantage of the home networks from people who did not bother to password-protect them.
While stealing bandwidth did not give me the best Internet, my connection to the World Wide Web was just as reliable as UP’s land lines. Both would vanish and reappear without much notice, causing me to throw on my shoes and drive to Sharky’s Burrito Co. or Arby’s for their free Wi-Fi (unfortunately, neither one is open 24 hours).
The periodic loss of Wi-Fi connectivity was understandable because it operates on an unlicensed frequency that deals with interference like microwave ovens and cordless phones; its signals also had to pass through several concrete walls before reaching my laptop. UP’s land Internet had no such excuses.
UP provides its residents Internet through an out-of-date structure. The cabling is old, inefficient, unreliable and too expensive to replace, according to several Team 55 employees in response to my numerous phone complaints over the last two years. While UP and ACU share the same Internet services, the two have different systems – one includes Wi-Fi and relatively strong signals; the other does not. I happen to deal with the former on a daily basis.
So while I recently joined the straight world and stopped my Wi-Fi pilfering, I understand the allure of free wireless Internet and cannot blame the other criminals who inhabit my apartment building. I hope UP will one day emerge from the Dark Ages to provide its residents the Wi-Fi they crave. For if UP can build a new barbecue area complete with fire pit, grill and seating, surely it can afford to broadcast its Internet signals to its tenants through its own wireless network.