My Internet service provider is TalkTalk and until very recently I was always perfectly happy with their service; what's more I even gained a distinct sense of loyalty to them when they decided to resist the Digital Economy Act of 2010, a piece of legislation which was nothing more than an attempt at backdoor online censorship. Nevertheless I've become concerned over an element of their practice when I ordered an upgrade a couple of years ago to TalkTalk Fibre, a "super-fast" broadband service than runs on a national fibre-optic system. An engineer came to my home and fitted a new phone socket, and he dropped off a special new router to replace my old modem. There is a helpline TalkTalk customers can call where the staff all speak with a Filipino accent, suggesting that the call centre is in the Philippines; I suspect TalkTalk is therefore using cheap Third World labour. As they discussed my service with me they were very keen to show me how to run my internet access via a wireless local area network. In fact their tone was strangely overenthusiastic; I've heard from friends who have experienced the same thing. I told them I didn't need a wireless LAN because I only have my personal computer and that sits about two feet away from the phone socket where the router is plugged in, easily within reach of the five-foot Ethernet cable they provided me with. This seemed a very straightforward explanation to me, but the helpline man's reply was curious: "Are you sure you don't want to set up a wireless connection, Mr Emlyn-Jones?" It was as if he hadn't heard me; I had to repeat myself several times. Eventually he accepted the uncomfortable truth that I was happy with just a wired connection and he ended the conversation. The other reason I didn't want wireless is because I'm concerned about the health and safety aspects that have been raised over cellular transmissions, "electrosmog" and its dangers. I'm currently trying to persuade my landlord not to allow a smart meter to be installed and I've been following the research of people like Barry Trower and Deborah Tavares, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z99_SzoXZdY and: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOpCtLQIZJ8. So I plugged my PC into the router using the cable, but then I noticed that the light on the router box's display that indicated WiFi was still lit. It turned out that the wireless transmitter in the router still operates even if you're not connected up to a wireless LAN. I immediately called back TalkTalk and demanded to know how to disable it. They told me this wasn't possible. I wondered what to do and in the end decided to construct a Faraday cage to put my router in, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/tin-foil-hat.html (I found out afterwards that I didn't make it quite right because I should have fitted an earth wire to channel the current). However when I told a very IT-savvy friend of mine what had happened he was astounded. He told me that it was very easy to disable the WiFi signal on a TalkTalk Fibre router; you can access the router's driver using an ordinary web browser and this will give you the option to switch off the WiFi signal for "saving power and network security". I followed his instructions and it worked. The question is; why did TalkTalk technical support not tell me this?
Everything was fine for a while until last week when I changed my ISP package. The Filipina saleswoman offered me a 20% discount for six months and I gave way to temptation. Part of the new package was sending me a new router and TV box (not that I'll ever use that!) called a "super-router". Alarm bells rang. "Are you certain nothing else will change in my use of your services?" I asked. "Absolutely positive, Mr Emlyn-Jones. You just use the new router in the same format as your existing one." I had a very bad feeling about it even as I agreed to the offer over the phone. When the new super-router arrived I set it up and switched it on, and it worked fine, including the WiFi transmitter. I opened up the driver control to disable the signal as I had done with my old router and noticed that it was an entirely different page. I searched in vain for the WiFi toggle, but it was not there. I called TalkTalk and explained to the adviser that I wished to switch off the WiFi transmitter and that I was using a wired connection because I live in a small room, only have a single device on the router and the cable is easily adequate for that... "Why do you not want a wireless local area network, Mr Emlyn-Jones?"... I gritted my teeth and groaned inwardly. I try to be always polite to call centre staff, but I couldn't keep a twinge of irritation out of my voice, and I snapped back: "Do I have to give you a reason?" There was a pause. "Alright, Mr Emlyn-Jones. I will have to discuss this with my supervisor. Please hold the line for a few minutes." I held for two minutes and then suddenly the line went dead... Maybe we were just accidentally cut off. I called back and was put through to a different adviser and he said. "Not a problem, Mr Emlyn-Jones. I will disable your wireless signal from here... there, it's done." I looked down at the box; the WiFi light was still shining. "Are you sure? The light's still on." "Yes, Mr Emlyn-Jones. I've definitely deactivated the wireless signal on your router." I thanked him half-heartedly. I had fortunately not thrown away my old router. I pulled it out from where I'd been storing it and plugged it in. At the time of writing I'm still using my old TalkTalk Fibre router. Obviously this situation cannot last forever; the router has a limited service life. What I'll do after that I'm not sure; build another Faraday cage? Switch to a new ISP? I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. What bothers me about this saga is that that the wireless technology we have in modern society, that most people use quite willingly, is becoming more difficult not to use when you're not willing. If WiFi really is a form of electromagnetic weaponry intended to do us harm in any of the ways Trower and Tavares discuss, then the attackers wielding it could be making sure that their targets have no defence. The staff at TalkTalk may have been given instructions to pressure customers who dislike WiFi into complying. This is still an ongoing situation and I'll write an update as soon as there are more developments.