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Wireless Networking The Internet Hardware

The Return of Free Internet 260

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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  • Not really free (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:25AM (#11742915)
    I pay via my phone company and ISP - I'm not paying any more once I'm online. But I don't look at adverts - it's AdBlock all the way.
    • Re:Not really free (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:18AM (#11743097) Homepage
      You pay your cable company, yet you watch adverts. You buy magazines, yet there are advertisements on there.

      Don't confuse who gets what. The phone company makes money to route your call to your ISP. Your ISP makes money routing your computer to the internet. 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. Of all of the people on the food chain, they're probably the most deserving.

      You may be paying your phone company and ISP, but you're not paying via your phone company and ISP... It's not going to anyone but them.
      • Re:Not really free (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Koiu Lpoi ( 632570 )
        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.
        • Re:Not really free (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Tim C ( 15259 )
          I didn't pay 8 dollars to see a movie and then get hit with the world's biggest coke can on screen.

          I tend to notice that sort of thing too. I watched Panic Room recently, and was struck by the prominent placing of Sony, Nokia and Evian.

          Of course, the worst I've ever seen is Inspector Gadget, with the huge Yahoo! billboard, complete with "Yahoooooo!" voice effect...
          • Not to mention Blade Trinity (saw it a couple of weeks ago on the bus).... "let's go hunt vampires!!!" "wait a minute, let me load my apple itunes playlist on my apple ipod" "ok"... :)
    • Re:Not really free (Score:3, Insightful)

      by erick99 ( 743982 )
      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?
      • Google seems to managed without pop-ups or pop-unders, and without animated ads. I never block static images or text-only ads. I always block popup and pop under (without noticing). Animated falls in between: I avoid sites with (too many of) those.

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

          by Atrax ( 249401 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:47AM (#11743186) Homepage Journal
          Google is not in the business of free internet service provision. Their business model is utterly different to what your parent is talking about.

          Google is, in essence*, in the business of

          a) Content Provision
          b) Advertising

          to run an ISP for free is a fairly difficult proposition. I have friends in the business and they provide "free" internet, but in the end someone has to pay up - in the case of pubnet [], the pubs pay, and the punters surf for free. What I'm saying is the money has to come from somewhere.

          * simplifying
          • Google is not in the business of free internet service provision. Their business model is utterly different to what your parent is talking about.

            He did? Then I misunderstood him. I thought he was talking about ad-blocking in general.

            Otherwise I agree. It is different because serving web pages is so darn cheap, while wires and routers are not.

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

              by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:11AM (#11743247)
              serving web pages is so darn cheap

              That really depends on how popular the site is, of course. A heavily hit site like or google is going to have to invest a fair amount in hardware, network infrastructure, etc, in addition to any bandwidth charges they incur. I wouldn't be too quick to write off the potential cost of serving web pages (although admittedly, in the case of MS especially a fair chunk of their bandwidth bill is going to be due to file downloads rather than just straight serving of pages...)
            • serving web pages is so darn cheap

              Tell that to the next poor sap who gets Slashdotted when he posts a story featuring his personal webpage...

          • Re:Not really free (Score:2, Informative)

            by andynz ( 686071 )
            I remember a situation in New Zealand a few years ago where there were a couple of truly free dial up ISPs.

            There were two major Telcos in NZ, Telecom NZ, which is the monopoly provider of residential phone lines to the majority of the population, and Clear (now Telstraclear), which provided a few business lines and toll services. Telecom basically forced Clear to sign an interconnect agreement whereby the two companies would charge each other 2c per minute for calls terminating on the other network. Sin

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

        by markh1967 ( 315861 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:29AM (#11743613)
        If you're in the UK checkout []. They offer free dialup and email and seem to be staying in business. I've been using their free email service for a couple of years and I've often used their free dialup when a modem connection is all that is available to me and I need to download drivers or software; just enter the number, type any username/password and you're connected.
      • Well, no, but I could create a non-profit and take donations for settin up a a free wireless mesh network. People are already doing that sort of thing.
      • 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?

    • Re:Not really free (Score:5, Informative)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:57AM (#11743441) Homepage Journal
      I love how people think they are entitled to the work of others.
      Really are the ads on Slashdot so bad. When I read Circut Cellar or CycleWorld I actually value the ads. Never know when I will see a good deal on a new Helmet or development system. I have even gotten some good out of the ads on slashdot.
  • Misnomer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EvilNutSack ( 700432 ) <juhapearson AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:26AM (#11742919)

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

    • and this is how the economy works, evolution in progress...

      /insert cliche here

      • by dustmite ( 667870 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:11AM (#11743248)

        The cost of the bandwidth and overheads and so on will be subsidized by advertising costs. These costs are in turn paid for by the customers of the advertisers (*) (meaning the advertisers must charge more for their products than they would otherwise have been able to). This means the customers of the advertisers' products are paying for it, rather directly in fact (although that may seem too abstract for some people to connect the two .. but a percentage of the cost of any product you buy is used to advertise that very product to you .. you are in a sense "buying" the advertising too). There is also going to be some overlap between the two sets of users (advertisers' customers vs 'bandwidth users'), so some will pay for the BW even more directly. But while on an individual level it may be possible to just sit and use the bandwidth 'for free', taken on the average the users are still paying for it. And it doesn't sound like a terribly efficient bandwidth payment model to me - paying an ISP directly is probably more economically efficient for providing the same service, which may make this "devolution" in a sense, or perhaps just "divergence" as there is now a choice between models to the consumer.

        And although you may think that you're purely snarfing free bandwidth and that the ads have no effect on you, unless you physically block the ads or take note of the places advertised and deliberately avoid them, those ads are absorbed by your brain in one way or another, and will increase brand recognition and brand identity no matter what you do, making you statistically more likely to buy those products. An interesting question is whether or not this is a more effective (and thus economically efficient) advertising medium than other advertising media. If it turns out to be less effecient, it means the advertisers have to pay more to get the same return, which is perhaps a step backwards.

        My own theory is that ultimately we never get anything for free because over the course of your life it all averages out: Some level of cross-subsidisation is everywhere (e.g. IE isn't "free" because those who buy Windows pay for it; "free pizza delivery" is effectively subsidised by walk-in customers in the form of slightly higher prices to cover the delivery costs, etc.) For every product you get for "free", on average there is another occasion where you end up subsidising someone else's "free" product (usually without even knowing), so it all cancels out in the end.

        (*) Just to pre-empt anyone counter-arguing that investor funding may be used: True, but investors still expect returns, and investor returns generally come from customers or more investments.

  • by bobdotorg ( 598873 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:27AM (#11742921)
    I'm surfing _right now_ on an open connection in the next apartment building.

    In the past year, when on the road, It's never taken more than a few minutes of walking / wardriving through a strip mall or retail street to get a connection.

    While this service certainly has some value to me as a last resort, I wonder how many non /.'ers are aware of the free internet around them.
    • In Brighton here in the UK, the wireless scene is pretty thriving. We have a few little orgs that provide totally free access. The first, provides access in various cafes and pubs, and another, provides access all along the main part of the beach(!). There's also a few more places providing some in public gardens etc.

      It's all free and very well maintained.
    • Jesus, you wanna cop to stealing someone else's newspaper too?
    • That's all nice but I hate to be dependent on someone else's connection, even if they're redundant. (I leave my WLAN open to whoever wants to use it...)

      Outside the range of my own WLAN I'd seriously consider ad-sponsored free WiFi service...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:27AM (#11742922)
    I'm getting the old insulating tape ready to cover the
    ' narrow, persistent band of content" across the bottom of'
    my screen
  • hotspots? (Score:5, Funny)

    by spankey51 ( 804888 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:27AM (#11742923)
    "Last week, the company launched what will be a nationwide network of ad-supported wi-fi hotspots."
    Note: All hotspots will occur exclusively at starbucks coffee shops. Considerations are underway to expand to McDonalds and Walmarts near you!
  • 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 trifish ( 826353 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:28AM (#11742926)
    Has 'free Internet access' finally arrived?

    Here where I live (EU, Czech Republic), we have had companies offering free access to internet for free for many many years. So your question should be rephrased to "Has 'free Internet access' finally arrived in the US?"
    • by blorg ( 726186 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:35AM (#11742962)
      That's how 'free internet' worked here in Ireland; more correctly called 'no subscription internet' where you were instead charged the cost of a normal local call, and the ISP got a cut for terminating the call. Freeserve in the UK was the first 'free' ISP in Europe following this model I believe, although the market has now swung more towards flat-rate and then broadband.
      • Far from free though - local calls here in the UK (0845 number) cost almost 4p (about 6 eur cent) per minute during day-time.
        • Sure, but it was 'free' in the sense that you didn't have to pay for the ISP subscription _on top of_ the phone calls (which was the case previously in Ireland at least, although they did bring in a daytime discount rate for internet).

          The key thing here is that around the time the internet was taking off, local phone calls in Europe were not generally free, unlike the US.

          Interestingly in Ireland in the 80s, local phone calls were however flat rate, ~10p for as long as you wanted. I was using a C64 service
      • Down here we have 4-5 companies that offer dial-up access without costs, and than charge for support (if you use it), web acceleration (use of an specialized proxy that crunches jpegs etc), wideband access, and other stuff. In the case of 0-cost access, the phone companies pay them part of the calls (normally local).
      • Back in the dark days you paid your monthly fee, a per-minute access fee, and your phone call!

        Worked out to be about £20/month and 5p/minute off peak, 10p on peak.
    • by kbahey ( 102895 )
      In Europe and other areas, the local calls are not free, and this is how the ISP/Telecom makes money.

      In Egypt, the internet is free for everyone who has a phone line. No ISP fees, no subscription (and no POP mail either, everyone uses Hotmail).

      The trick is revenue sharing between the ISP and the telecom provider (either a government run monopoly or a private state-sanctioned monopoly). The per minute charge comes on the phone bill, and the fees are split by the ISP and telecom.

      In the USA and Canada this
  • !Free (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mirko ( 198274 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:28AM (#11742929) Journal
    It's not Free if you have to rely on your provider to throttle your bandwidth by flooding you with ads.
    I am somehow anxious to see that one has to pay the big bucks to avoid an over-commercial situation.
  • 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 [], 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.
    • 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.
      • 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 hotspo
    • 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.


  • Both TFA and the FreeFi site don't mention OS requirements. The FreeFi site has a screenshot of their "toolbar" (the thing with the constant streaming ads) running on XP. What are the chances it'll be available for non-Windows people too?
    • 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.
    • What are the chances it'll be available for non-Windows people too?

      Slim and none.
  • by Hurklefish ( 733687 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:29AM (#11742936)
    I think this is a great idea. A business model based on giving something away is one of my favorites, and has been since the release of doom 1.0. If done well, everyone benefits. One thing I'm wondering.. this persistant band of content. How long will it take until someone comes up with a way to disable that? I seem to recall various other schemes that used a similar concept, and it always seemed like someone would quickly come up with a method for removing the revenue generating add content. Maybe a similar idea would work better, i.e. instead of a persistent bar of content, you could have an add filled portal type page that the user sees when they first access the hot spot. Not hard to set up at all. Of course, it might be that their ad content is just fine, and not a bother. Google is an example of a company doing that kind of thing correctly. We get a useful service, and the ads aren't flashing yellow monstrosities. If done wrong, tho, it can be a nightmare.
  • Whap happens when... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ET_Fleshy ( 829048 ) <lespea AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:29AM (#11742937)
    From TFA:
    The FreeFi Toolbar provides a persistent presence on the user's desktop only while logged into an affliated public hotspot and is entirely removed when they log out. IT USES NO ADWARE OR SPYWARE. The Toolbar displays useful content including local directory services, downloadable games, premium media content and display advertising.
    I'm wondering how the adbar is displayed on your computer. It sounds to me like the user does not have to install anything on their computer, but I highly doubt that. If nothing really is required to be installed on the users computer, firefox will take care of that real quick, both adblock and the ability to modify the base CSS style will quickly solve that problem. However, if the user is forced to install "non adware and/or spyware" to use their service, Privoxy [] I would think should be able to disable it. Either way I wouldn't mind seeing this spring up around the country.
  • 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?

    • Re:Should it? (Score:2, Informative)

      Because the companies can't advertise on a phone line while someone's making a call, and when they stop calling there's no-one there to advertise to.
      • Because the companies can't advertise on a phone line while someone's making a call, and when they stop calling there's no-one there to advertise to.

        What's to stop a phone service from offering lowercost lines by forcing you to listen to a short ad before completing your call ?
        It would be trivial to skip the add on emergency calls like 911, or local PD, but to force the ad before connecting the call.

        Plus, you're already exposed to ads on the phone. Ever waited on hold at any decent sized company ? T

    • 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?
      • Re:Better analogy (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Qa1 ( 592969 )

        Television isn't a communication network. Someone broatcasts to you whatever you desire. You can't broadcast back. You don't determine which information you get. You can't even choose not to receive the commercials. You can't be a server yourself, share your files, or setup your own broadcast on the television "network".

        Telephone network access is a much better analogy for Internet access than television. Furthermore, television has never really been a network in the computer sense. And in the cases when i

        • Television isn't a communication network.
          I beg to differ. When there is an emergency in your community, how do you (collectively) find out about it? Through the emergency broadcasting system. And pretty much nowhere else.

          Communication doesn't have to be two way to be effective.

      • Re:Better analogy (Score:2, Informative)

        by stevey ( 64018 )

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

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

        Come to the UK - we have a mandatory TV license which is non-free.

        Buy a TV in the UK and you will have to give a name and address so that they can insure you pay it.

        Even if you never use the Television set for anything more than watching your own DVDs you will have to pay the annual TV-license fee of just over 100 pounds.

        (The money goes to the BBC who use it to fund their programming - in add

    • Re:Should it? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by thbb ( 200684 )
      Because the marginal cost for providing internet access is null.

      Enter a coffee shop and ask (politely) for a glass of water or to use the bathroom, or to sit for an hour while you're waiting for someone: no one will charge you, as the cost for providing this service is absorbed in the fixed costs of the store.

      Side note: I don't think the television metaphor is a good one: you have to keep producing TV programs to entertain TV viewers, hence TV broadcast can't be free, unless it's crap meant to zombie you
    • FM/MW Radio is free.
      FM Television is free.

      It really depends on whether the business model is supportable with advertising. And then again, its about being open to change. The web and email is free because the pioneers thought of a radically new way to make money out of it. And then it became the rule.

      It did not happen with telephone. People were narrow minded then.

      And finally, you said telephony is not free. But then if the net becomes free, VoIP enables free telephony. It also enables free web-casts, an
  • 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".
  • It seems pretty clear that wireless access will only increase, until we no longer worry about our physical connection to the internet; it will simply be everywhere. The question is, with people moving around cities and such, what payment model will survive? I suspect it will be something along the lines of companies sharing the actual infrastructure but selling ACCESS to it individually, much like long-distance carriers do with the current phone system.

    But I think an ad-based system for basic access is j
  • New Economy! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <> 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...

  • 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 [] may be good enough timing that this will work - cost per profit - but I'll be surprised.

    Not that I'd complain.
  • So what happens when people figure out how to use the service without looking at the Ads? Do the sponsors stop paying? And isn't there already free internet access at some hotspots in parts of some cities? I can't see this company making that much money. And won't they need a broadband connection for every business that uses this service? Unless they have a very strong wireless connection, and I can't see the ad revenue being over $20/month per business (unless each business had thousands of customers
  • maybe off-topic (Score:3, Informative)

    by isecore ( 132059 ) <isecore@is[ ] ['eco' in gap]> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:42AM (#11742993) Homepage
    but free dialup has been very common here in Sweden for 2-3 years now. Ever since broadband took off the companies provide anyone who wants with free dialup - only pay the phonecharge.

    Hell, there are several places where you go to a webpage, click a button and boom they provide you with a username, password and phone# to call. All without having to provide a single shred of personal information.
    • In the Netherlands the only dialup (being ISDN 64/128kbps) still available is 'free' dialup. There are 11 providers that I know of.

      Of course you have to pay per minute (0.01/0.028 euro) for using the phone connection. It's actually more expensive than a cheap 20 euro a month ADSL subscription if you use Internet regularly.

      Free WiFi is really free. There are lots of free WiFi access points here (with the university spread all over own), but no provider with a free national network. It is an interesting con
  • by rookworm ( 822550 ) <> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:44AM (#11742999)
    The company said that the content bar does not involve adware or spyware.

    I'd like to hear their definition of adware.

  • Nice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by martingunnarsson ( 590268 ) * <martin&snarl-up,com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:46AM (#11743005) Homepage
    Mostly negative comments so far. I think this is a very good thing. If the other option is no wifi at all, I'd go for the ad-sponsored one any day. I wouldn't mind the ads as I would only use the connection temporarly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:49AM (#11743016)
    Besides the problems with forcing the ads, how will they make sure the person sitting across the street can't read your email? That's a big issue, imo.
    With public access wifi, capturing the airbourne packets is probably gonna be very easy. And no-one notices you, because your notebook will simply function as a 'radio'...

    Ofcourse, using tunnels (w/IPSec) and TLS will provide the neccesary encryption, but unless you always 'phone home' and use your home intenet connection, privacy will be an issue.

    And ofcourse, there's the banners. The only thing that I can think of that will work is some mangling proxy that adds a frame on each and every page. And even that is very simple to bypass. But it _does_ mean a direct internet connection is not allowed, because most services are not meant to have banners injected to them, or even incapable of transferring them.

    Thus, when they indeed only use a web proxy, I cannot classify as 'free internet', because the web isn't the Internet.

    I'd just sit back and wait til it comes, then take a look at it again. It may not be as bad as described above, but it still could ofcourse.

    Please submit an article when it is actually _working_.
    • ...Besides the problems with forcing the ads, how will they make sure the person sitting across the street can't read your email? That's a big issue, imo.
      With public access wifi, capturing the airbourne packets is probably gonna be very easy. And no-one notices you, because your notebook will simply function as a 'radio'...

      At public access points I always use a Proxy Server, and I always use one at work also - added bonus - I can look at any pages I'd like to and not worry about hitting something NSFW.

    • I think the choice between 'free with adverts' or 'free as in beer from vastly more unsecured access points' is fairly clear.

      It will not work.
  • 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.
  • Shrinking market? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stripsurge ( 162174 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:00AM (#11743049) Homepage
    Any thoughts as to how adoption of city wide government funded wi-fi will play into this? I seem to recall hearing about a few major cities, Philly comes to mind, having done this or at least are in the process of implimentation. I'm wondering how long it'll be before the majority of cities adopt universal wi-fi at the cost to taxpayers making this new service obsolete.
  • UK dialup (Score:4, Informative)

    by Mr_Silver ( 213637 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:07AM (#11743072)
    In the UK for dialup, you pay only for the local call. This money is then split between British Telecom and the ISP.

    There are no additional fees from the ISP and most give you POP3 email, a couple of email aliases and sometimes a small amount of web space.

    Not totally free, but pretty close to it (and no adverts either).

  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:18AM (#11743096) Journal
    I already pay enough to my ISP, so I never bother with those pay-for-access WiFi hotspots that cafes and airports have. (Our local airport on the other hand has free WiFi). If the WiFi hotspot is not free, I use the GPRS service on my mobile phone because it's already paid for. It may be slow, but it does for email and web surfing.

    The trouble with the pay for access WiFi hotspots (at least here) are most of them are extortionate. The minimum charge at, say, Gatwick Airport is GBP/5. You can't buy less than a one hour block. Those 'payphone style' Internet kiosks are cheaper, and you can buy just 15 minutes worth which is enough to check email (and you don't have to use up your laptop's battery).

    If I ran a cafe, I'd allow free wifi with a purchase. It'd be something extra to differentiate my shop from the competition.
    • If you are in the City of London, try Corney & Barrow. A free-WiFi winebar. Almost everyone else(especially the coffee shops) charge $$$ for something that costs them very little.

      The joke is that WiFi connections are so expensive that 3G is actually cheaper in most circumstances.

  • Heh... (Score:5, Informative)

    by 404notfound ( 467950 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:34AM (#11743139)
    I remember using NetZero before, and I did something (what, exactly, escapes me) where I popped open taskman and hit 'end task' at a specific point during connection -- or something -- which allowed me to have free internet access without any ads. It worked great for fullscreen activities like Diablo 1 and Starcraft (shows you how long ago I was pulling the trick).
  • by yelvington ( 8169 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:19AM (#11743278) Homepage
    Those days, and the business model that supplied them, are long gone... or perhaps not

    Timothy is often reposts previously posted news because he doesn't look first. In this case, he should have looked up netzero [] and juno [], which are still around, still offering free ad-supported dialup access. They actually merged into one company, United Online, [] in 2001.

    The business model is to give away ad-cluttered free access -- which is limited to something like 10 hours per month -- and try to upsell you to their $9.95 and $14.95 premium plans, which do not install an ad panel.

  • Uk already has them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by netean ( 549800 ) <email.iainalexander@com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:53AM (#11743421) Homepage
    Just got back from a trip to Brighton (South Coast of England) where there are loads of pubs, cafes and restaurants offering free internet access. All with wi-fi, some even have freely usable pcs.

    I'd not seen this elsewhere, but it got me thinking, considering the price of a basic dsl connection (about £20) and wifi access point (also about £20-30) for the extra revenue it'll generate it's surely a good loss leader to bring in customers and keep them a little longer. On the way back from brighton I stopped at a Motorway service station and picked up a leaflet for BT openzone (£6 per hour) hardly a great incentive!
  • How? (Score:2, Interesting)

    So lets say I wanted to use this 'free' service to run SSH to connect to my home server. How/where exactly are they going to display their advertising to me? Or will this not really be 'Internet' access, but restricted, Windows/IE-only 'WWW' access?
    • Re:How? (Score:2, Informative)

      by BP9 ( 516511 )
      A local sports bar chain (Wild Bill Buffalo Wings) has 'free' WiFi access from some company called HarborLink [].

      They have a transparent proxy on port 80 which initially intercepts any web page access and pushes you to an AUP page which you have to click 'yes' on. Until you do this your IP is blocked outbound, afterwards everything works fine (esp ssh which I use heavily). Every now and then (5-10 mins) the transparent proxy responds to a random http get with a page of ads instead of whatever you asked for.
  • 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 [] 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.

  • As Long As... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:59AM (#11743849) Homepage Journal works with free (speech and beer) OSes and allows unproxied access to the rest of the world, it will be a hit with people like me. :)
  • by Chanc_Gorkon ( 94133 ) <> 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.
  • Two words. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tuxedo Jack ( 648130 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:27AM (#11744084) Homepage
    HOSTS file.

    Of course, if that blocks the ads, and the ads are on the same server that their connections are routed through, you're kinda boned.
  • by cmefford ( 810011 ) * <cpm @ w e> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:32AM (#11744123)
    free community wireless, WITHOUT Ads? Will they lobby to get us outlawed?
  • Free WiFi (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Scott7477 ( 785439 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:55AM (#11744329) Homepage Journal
    Personally, I wouldn't mind having an ad bar running ads along the bottom of the browser window if it meant free service. Given that a WiFi connection would mean more bandwidth than a dialup connection, it wouldn't interfere with my reading of the web pages I click to.

    I use Google and Gmail all the time right now and the ads they place on each page loaded don't bother me at all.

    The problem with services such as NetZero (which I had for over a year) was that at dialup speeds the ads hogged enough of the bandwidth that eventually I got sick of it and quit.

    Also, in terms of TV/radio I don't think ads are necessarily bad. If the ad creators did a better job of producing their ads then folks wouldn't necessarily skip them. I know a lot of you don't skip the beer commercials during sports programming because you want to see those hot chicks.

  • 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?".

    • And I forgot a second catch: at the coffee shop near me, at least half of the users are non-Windows users. Most of the other half use Powerbooks or iBooks and there's a sprinkling of Linux laptops. How does FreeFi deal with non-Windows systems?

  • "narrow, persistent band of content" across the bottom of the user's screen

    Put a narrow duct tape across bottom of the user's screen. Much less annoying than narrow, persistant band of content.
  • by X86Daddy ( 446356 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:40AM (#11744793) Journal
    This is not new, check out the original free community network [].

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall