SHARING THE INTERNET IN A COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION

Community Associations are "neighborhoods" and small "communities." Sharing an internet connection among such groups makes sense and has precedents in other applications.

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Location: Walnut Creek, California, United States

I received my Ph.D. in Government from Claremont Graduate School and my law degree from the University of California, Davis. Berding|Weil has represented community associations for over 35 years. For more information, please call 925-838-2090, or email: tberding@berding-weil.com

Monday, February 13, 2006

Internet Sharing in a Community Association

An article from the New York Times recently spotlighted some emerging technology that may be of interest to community associations. Two companies, one in San Diego, and the other in Seattle, are developing technology that would allow small neighborhoods to share broadband connections. The article states that this new wireless technology may make it possible for groups of neighbors to share their DSL or cable Internet connections.

The author states: “The two companies, which developed their technologies separately, are taking slightly different approaches. But in both cases, neighbors would be able to connect relatively standard wireless routers that would permit their computers to receive data in parallel from multiple DSL or cable network connections.” The idea is to allow multiple users to share a few wireless access points and internet subscriptions making the connection cheaper for everyone. Similar technology has been explored for the purpose of creating faster internet connections, but this new technology appears to be a more consumer-oriented approach.

It is based on the fact that most Internet connections are substantially under-utilized. A representative of one of the companies stated: “Our studies show that, averaged across all users, the utilization is less than 1 percent of the total capacity.” Some experts estimate that the typical DSL line may carry 200 times more capacity than is actually utilized. If this is all true, a 100-unit condominium complex may only need 5 or 10 individual connections to meet the average needs of the members if wireless technology could link those connections and be accessed by all of the homes.

One of the downsides to this approach may be the expected objections from Internet service providers who would see the idea as potentially cutting into their revenues. However, Internet subscriptions have not typically required single user licenses and clearly within a household, several users share the same connection. The same is true in businesses where many users share, by way of large networks, a single Internet subscription. We even have Google offering to provide free Internet access to the entire City of San Francisco.

For those reasons it is not a stretch at all to extend Internet connection sharing to other types of communities, including community associations. What better “neighborhood” to share an Internet connection than a common interest development? For the most part, the association has access to all of the utility spaces necessary to install wireless transmitters, and to the wiring necessary to connect them to a phone line or cable network. Many associations already have arrangements with cable companies to provide television service to the project. A wireless network to provide a connection to the Internet would be fairly simple and inexpensive to install.

No existing law prevents a community association from sharing an internet connection. Of course, agreements with Internet service providers would have to be reviewed to be sure that their contract language did not conflict with the intended use, but with all of the competition among providers, it would seem that some deal could be struck that would allow the connection to be shared by neighbors. The fact is that it is probably already happening informally. How many people who use a wireless connection for their laptop, for example, find multiple networks available when they log on to their computers? In multi-family projects, many of these signals come from neighbors, and if they are not encrypted, anyone can log on to the Internet on one or more of them.

The point is that with Internet connections, unlike software, it is typical for several or many people to share a single internet connection. As the technology becomes available, it makes sense for community associations to investigate its use in their “neighborhoods.” Not only would it bring the Internet to many more people, it would allow the association to establish information hotlines on a private “intranet;” have wireless “web cams” which could be used at annual meetings for the benefit of those who cannot attend and for other security purposes; and undoubtedly provide many more benefits derived from a wireless network.

Tyler