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Wireless Networking The Internet Hardware

The Return of Free Internet 260

Posted by timothy
from the probably-browser-limited dept.
valdean writes "Remember the days of ad-supported dial-up Internet access from the likes of Netzero and Altavista Free Access? Those days, and the business model that supplied them, are long gone... or perhaps not. A new effort is being explored by California-based FreeFi Networks. Last week, the company launched what will be a nationwide network of ad-supported wi-fi hotspots. Ads will appear in what FreeFi calls a "narrow, persistent band of content" across the bottom of the user's screen. To provide incentive to America's coffee shops, they'll share advertising revenues with the hosting venue. Has 'free Internet access' finally arrived?"
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The Return of Free Internet

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  • Misnomer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EvilNutSack (700432) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `nosraepahuj'> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:26AM (#11742919) Homepage

    You may not be paying for it with money, but you still end up 'paying' for it.

  • How? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:27AM (#11742924)
    How will it manage to accomplish this? browsing inside of an activeX window? will it proxy everywhere you go with a frame on the bottom of every page ala google images? And if so, how long till this gets cracked?
  • by CdBee (742846) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:28AM (#11742932)
    Pay-to-surf was a British attempt to pay people to watch advertising online - it failed, partly because a lot of users found a way to move the advertising off-screen using virtual desktops

    Now we are in the age of pop-up blocking and adblock [mozdev.org], a few REGEXP filters and a bit of custom config will probably let a lot of users very easily remove the advertising content... unless, that is, they intend to use a dedicated client instead of open standards for their wifi hotspots, in which case mac and linux laptops probably won't work with it anyway.
  • Should it? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Qa1 (592969) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:29AM (#11742938)
    Has 'free Internet access' finally arrived?

    We have had telephone network access for about a centutry now.

    It has never been free.

    Why should Internet access be?

  • Nothing is free (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:30AM (#11742940)
    It isn't free it has advertising.

    Even "free"-to-air television is NOT free. All those products and services advertised. those products and services you buy, pay for that TV.

    If it is government funded TV then it is your taxes that are paying for it.

    There is no free lunch.

  • by Ross Finlayson (17913) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:30AM (#11742942) Homepage
    Yet another misguided company that thinks that "The Internet" == "The World-Wide Web".
  • New Economy! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scarblac (122480) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:34AM (#11742958) Homepage

    Yes, it's the New Economy! It wasn't really gone - that downcycle was just part of it. Everything free (supported by ads for other free services, supported by ads for the first free service), buying up blog companies and other things that loads of people use for free, it's The Future! Once more!

    The New Economy is really different from the Old Economy - for one thing, companies don't need to make any profits, earnings or even have a business plan, but we knew that already. The other thing is that it leads to a total stock market crash every eight years! It's The Future.

    But doesn't that cost insane amounts of money, I hear you ask, investing billions in no-brains companies every few years, losing it all, starting all over "because the VCs must invest in something, or give the money back to investors!"

    Yes, but (and you can sing along, as you do know the words) - we'll make it up in volume! Over and over and over again...

  • Re:Should it? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:35AM (#11742961)
    We have had telephone network access for about a centutry now.

    It has never been free.

    Why should Internet access be?


    Why are you defending the shareholders? They'll stab you in the back if they see the opportunity.
  • by FirienFirien (857374) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:35AM (#11742963) Homepage
    The problem with the advertising business - as seen with the complaints about TV recording utilities that automatically detect advert breaks, with the widespread use of popup blockers, and the large number of people who completely ignore ads:

    Most people don't like adverts.

    The companies that pay for the adverts are hoping to get extra custom want more ways to get to the client, and this will likely go forward because of the technology push - BUT the problem with a fixed bar of adverts is that after a few logons you ignore most of what happens in that part of the screen.

    Yes, there are people who do find the ads interesting, and will click on them. I currently find TV ads more interesting than most TV, since the advertisers are stretching further and further to catch our attention in zany and wacky ways that make us impressed enough to even think about buying their product; but I don't think that's the norm. People with an agenda will miss the ads, for the greater part; the tie-in with cheaper broadband [slashdot.org] may be good enough timing that this will work - cost per profit - but I'll be surprised.

    Not that I'd complain.
  • by Council (514577) <rmunroe@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:36AM (#11742967) Homepage
    It's difficult for ad-blocking technology to kill something unless an actual majority of users figure out how to do it. It's easy for /.ers to forget that the HUGE majority of users can't get around their own default browser, let alone block an ad that their ISP is trying hard to put there.
  • Better analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NerdConspiracy (858939) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:45AM (#11743002)

    Has 'free Internet access' finally arrived?

    We have had telephone network access for about a centutry now.

    It has never been free.

    Why should Internet access be?


    We have had television network access for half a century now.

    It has always been free (well at least some of it).

    Why shouldn't Internet access be?
  • by cgenman (325138) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:50AM (#11743018) Homepage
    The current model seems to fall into the you-pay-through-the-nose-you-businessman type. Starbucks was once upon a time charging 60 bucks per month for unlimited wireless access. Airports and other places still charge something like a dollar per minute.

    On the other hand, many people leave their networks open either inadvertently or intentionally because if you're resolved to pay for the backend anyway, you might as well share.

    So wireless internet access right now is either free or ludicrously expensive, with nothing inbetween. This seems like it could be a nice inbetween. No credit card changes hands, you're not committed to buying a day of time for 20 dollars, and you're not relying upon the kindness of strangers. You're paying for your internet access, and it's as always-on and always convienient as at home. If you want to just log on and check your mail quickly, you can do just that.

  • Hahahaha. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:57AM (#11743038)
    Has 'free Internet access' finally arrived?

    Short answer, no.
  • by CdBee (742846) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:21AM (#11743106)
    Most of those users may not even realise they're blocking ads, some popular firewall packages such as the all-in-one Norton Internet Security block ads, as do several shareware third-party applications now. I quoted adblock not for its ease of use but because it's free (OSS) and it's what I use.

    I suspect the amount of problems facing IE/Windows users now is going to force a degree of evolution - yes, most users aren't capable of it, but those aren't the people who take their laptops to a free wifi hotspot. FreeFi are targeting their service at a section of the online community which has already moved far beyond newbie-status
  • Re:Not really free (Score:3, Insightful)

    by erick99 (743982) <homerun@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:22AM (#11743110)
    The folks that write the code to block the popups and popunders and popsideways are in a constant race with the marketers trying to sneak in an ad. The bottom line is, could you offer free Internet service without some sort of advertising and make money? Let me rephrase, could you offer a free service, take in no revenue, pay your staff and maintain your infrastructure and break even or turn a profit? Hell of a game, ain't it?
  • by Simon (815) <simon@simo n z o n e . c om> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:33AM (#11743136) Homepage
    Pay-to-surf was a British attempt to pay people to watch advertising online - it failed, partly because a lot of users found a way to move the advertising off-screen using virtual desktops

    That and advertisers not interested in using these free-internet companies to advertise to the cheapskate demographic.

    --
    Simon

  • Re:Not really free (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Koiu Lpoi (632570) <koiulpoi&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:43AM (#11743167)
    Yes, however, for me at least, there is a point where advertising goes too far. Some websites (gamespy's websites in particular) are so chock full of advertisments, and since I have ideological disagreements, I will usually refuse to go to their site, or use their services. Same thing, with adverts being placed inside TV shows and movies. I didn't pay 8 dollars to see a movie and then get hit with the world's biggest coke can on screen.
  • by Koiu Lpoi (632570) <koiulpoi&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:48AM (#11743197)
    Very low, as always. End users (read:Joe Sixpack) simply are not using anything other than the Windows XP Home (ughhhh) that came with their computer. Of course, I can defeat my own argument by saying Joe Sixpack isn't the guy who's going to be using WiFi hotspots. In that vein, it would behoove them to make a MacOS client, seeing how many macs have wireless built in.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:55AM (#11743213) Homepage Journal
    Jesus, you wanna cop to stealing someone else's newspaper too?
  • Opera? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by carndearg (696084) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:40AM (#11743686) Homepage Journal
    No doubt like many Slashdotters, I have a copy of Opera [opera.com] installed on my computer. It's their freely downloadable version so it has a 468x60 banner advert on the right at the top. This doesnt bother me, does it bother any of you?

    Course it doesnt! Cos they're the plucky little software company taking on the big boys so they're the Good Guys.

    So if we're all happy to have Operas banners when we use that browser, why the fuss about this outfit? You get to connect without paying cash, they get to show you adverts. Simple transaction.

  • by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:15AM (#11743958)
    To the few who say they got free WiFi from thier neighbors....if they know about it, thats one thing. If they don't, that's another. Just because you spot a open WiFi port does not mean it's yours to use. If anything, I'd figure out where it is and let the owner be aware that their WiFi is wide open and anyone can use thier net connection for various things, legal and not legal.
  • Re:Not really free (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:35AM (#11744139)
    Somehow, the websites you surf, including this one, need to get some financial recompense or they're going to fall under the cost of bandwidth and hosting.

    People have been saying this for years.


    That's true. It's a good thing that no website has ever gone out of business [disobey.com].

  • Re:Not really free (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xThinkx (680615) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:49AM (#11744266) Homepage

    I think you're missing something, when you say "take in no revenue", I assume you're talking about revenue from the wifi. There is such a thing as free wifi (and a free lunch), it's used to sell you something else.

    I live in York, PA, one of the most untechnologically advanced areas in the country and I know of several places that offer "free" wifi just to get you in the door. "Sparky and Clark's", the local coffee shop has free wifi, all the time I see my few fellow geeks in there checking mail on a pda or surfing on a laptop while waiting for or enjoying their coffee. I don't know the specifics, but given the seating arrangement of the place, I have no doubt that a simple business DSL/cable line could serve everyone in the coffee shop, and I'm sure there's a decently configured router behind the scenes. But I can't imagine their monthly bill is more than $60-$80, and I can vouch for the fact that lines have gotten WAY longer and seating has become much more of a commodity since they installed the wifi. There are also several apartment buildings that are offering free wifi setups, I assume they get around some technicalities because they're giving it away. Don't forget hotels, last time I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express there was completely unsecured wifi. Oh and also, the indoor sports arena where I play Ultimate (and most people play soccer) also gives away wifi.

    Can you offer free wifi as a service on its own and still turn a profit? No. But could an eatery, housing arrangement, hotel, entertainment arena, hell even a whole city? Sure, as long as it's providing some other benefit.

    Having a bathroom costs money and requires maintenance, but how many businesses just deal with this as part of the cost of operation?

  • One catch (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:19AM (#11744573) Homepage

    The article says these guys run the hotspot at no charge to the location owner "except for the cost of a broadband connection". Does that mean the location owner pays for the link to the Internet? If so then I can see how they can offer this for free, there's no cost to FreeFi at all. And the first question I (and the manager of the coffee shop near me) would ask is, "If I'm paying for the expensive part, why do I need FreeFi at all?".

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