The idea behind FON (which I heard about via gigaom.com) is a simple — and fairly seductive — one: Get as many people as possible to open up their Wi-Fi networks and share their bandwidth, and thereby create oceans of wireless hotspots for free. The venture, which was started by entrepeneur Martin Varsavsky (who founded and sold Ya.com and Jazztel), involves downloading some software that turns your wireless router into an access point and then shares it with other FON members. But will it work?
As Om mentioned, there’s more than a little bit of hippie-style, “bandwidth wants to be free” feel to FON. It’s not clear how the system would be organized, or by whom — not to mention how it would allocate your wireless bandwidth so that it didn’t get sucked up by freeloaders. Even the few details that are given have a wonky feel to them, since free users and sharers are categorized as “Linuses” (after Linux developer Linus Torvalds, no doubt), those who want to be compensated for sharing are “Bills”, and a third tier of users are known as “Aliens.”
Skeptics include Glenn Fleishman of WiFiNetNews.com, who posted a long response on Om’s blog, arguing that such a network would have limited use — since it would have large gaps — and would likely get swamped by freeloaders. He and others have also mentioned what is likely to be one of the main stumbling blocks, which is that sharing bandwidth the way FON wants to is forbidden by the terms of service of almost every Internet service provider in North America, with the exception of Speakeasy.
I should point out that not everyone thinks FON is a wacky, Quixotic venture. The new company’s board of advisors includes such Web luminaries as Dan Gillmor of Bayosphere.com, Joi Ito of SixApart and David Weinberger of Joho the Blog , as well as Rebecca MacKinnon, who is a fellow at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.