Comcast intros wireless broadband in Portland, can it replace wifi borrowing?

Comcast's (CMCSA) plans to launch WiMAX service in Portland, Ore. were announced in March to some skepticism. The company's rebranding of Clearwire's WiMAX network hearkened back to the old days of line resellers for long distance phone service, and many wondered whether the piggybacking would represent a cannibalization of Comcast's existing, and robust, home internet access services in the area. Many analysts expressed doubt that WiMAX could ever be successful anywhere with already-developed high-speed infrastructure. Comcast's "elegant" $1.5 billion investment in the Washington-based startup (yes, this is the first time I've ever heard "elegance" cited as a reason for an investment) was announced about a year ago. Today, the WiMAX service was rolled out, and while the critics and cheerleaders abounded, customers had yet to assert themselves. A sweet but flustered customer service representative couldn't find her cheat sheet and sent me to the web, instead, to check out the new plans.

I live in a busy inner eastside Portland neighborhood, and am a Comcast customer. We have a wireless router; so does our neighbor; and as do countless homes, coffeeshops, and businesses around us. When we open our wireless networking applications, a colorful panoply of neighbors' signals presents itself, and I often have to shut my router down for a bit to knock freeloaders off so I can watch yet another replay of Glee on Hulu. (World's best pilot! Ever!) While it's certainly possible to lock down one's wifi signal, a good percentage of Portlanders believe, like I do, in the value of sharing; and connectivity, to us, seems an inalienable right. It's not unusual to meet friends for a coffee work date at one of our hundreds of local cafes and coffeeshops and see every table busy with freelancers, writers, vidcasters, and the idle internet users with laptops open.