A new Spanish company called FON intends to upset the traditional broadband access model by creating a global network of linked hotspots.
FON is a member-based service that piggy-backs their software onto existing wifi hotspots being operated by regular home users. At the most basic level, anyone with a wifi transmitter can be a “Linus” user, offering your hotspot to other FON members for free in exchange for getting access to all the other Linus hotspots for free. At a more premium level, you can a be a “Bill” user (cute) allowing you to earn a percentage of the revenue earned by offering paid access to your hotspot to FON members. So by offering access to some of my broadband pipe, I can access any other FON node around the world at no cost.
It’s an ambitious plan that I’m sure has lots of broadband operators calling their lawyers. It seems that the subscriber agreement of my Digital Cable / Internet provider Time Warner restrict this kind of sharing service:
If I receive HSD Service, I agree not to use the HSD Service for operation as an Internet service provider, for the hosting of websites (other than as expressly permitted as part of the HSD Service) or for any enterprise purpose whether or not the enterprise is directed toward making a profit. I agree that, among other things, my use of any form of transmitter or wide area network that enables persons or entities outside the location identified in the Work Order to use my Services, whether or not a fee is sought, will constitute an enterprise purpose. Furthermore, if I use a wireless network within my residence, I will limit wireless access to the HSD Service (by establishing and using a secure password or similar means) to the members of my household.
FON still has a ways to go before its fully operational. It only has about 3,000 members currently. The closest hotspot to me, for example, is in Brooklyn. The paid “Bill” service is not ready for release. And they are still in negotiations with various ISPs to work out agreements on Terms of Service that would allow FON to operate legally on their networks.
Normally I would see this scheme as just vaporware. But already FON has some impressive backers, including Skype and Google.
Anything that challenges the mega-corporate model of broadband access, and introduces a competitive environment to keep costs down is a good thing. Community wifi, municipal networks, mesh-networking, and now FON — let a thousand hotspots bloom.