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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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  • 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?"
  • Whap happens when... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ET_Fleshy ( 829048 ) <lespea@gmail.AAAcom minus threevowels> 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 [privoxy.org] I would think should be able to disable it. Either way I wouldn't mind seeing this spring up around the country.
  • 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.
  • Re:Should it? (Score:2, Informative)

    by FirienFirien ( 857374 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:39AM (#11742978) Homepage
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:41AM (#11742988)
    They charge quite a bit for tech support. Like 10 bucks a call. Maybe that's where they make their money.
  • maybe off-topic (Score:3, Informative)

    by isecore ( 132059 ) <isecore.isecore@net> 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.
  • 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_.
  • by myom ( 642275 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:55AM (#11743031)
    I am not so familiar to the dial-up ISPs in Sweden now, but a few years ago they got all their incomes from the calls. For example, Tele2 had modem pools with free Intenet access. One would use Telia's (the now partly privatised national phone company) phone lines to call them. Telia would charge you per minute (about 1$ per hour for a normal call across the entire country) and pay Tele2 a bit to receive the call on their lines leading to the modem pool.

    Prior to this the way to make money was to have a prequisite on these "free of charge" services - you had to sign up on their international and long distance calls services.

    In Sweden a governmental organisation called Post- och Telegrafistyrelsen, PTS regulates how much teh different networks and telcos can charge for their calls and call transfers, and telcos' business schemes adapt to these rates, but in short the general idea is to distribute the end user's money to the companies offering different parts of the phone/computer -> destination services.

    That way you would use Telia's phone lines to connect to the ISP/phone operator's lines that would in their turn do the final long distance or international call.

    Internet access has always been cheap in Sweden even in the dial-up times. I currently pay about 300kr (40$) a month for a 10Mbit/s Ethenet connection, the house is connected to a X GBit/s city network, with an option for 100Mbit/s for around 10$ more a month, but with a cap at 800GB transferred a month at that rate, after which it falls back to a slower speed.
  • 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).

  • 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).
  • 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 [pubnet.com.au], the pubs pay, and the punters surf for free. What I'm saying is the money has to come from somewhere.

    * simplifying
  • by The Mutant ( 167716 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:47AM (#11743192) Homepage
    ...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.

    All the Admins would see (if they were snooping) is an encrypted SSL session between by browser and a remote web site.

    I'm currently using MegaProxy [megaproxy.com], but a Google search [google.com] reveals a large list of both pay and free services.

  • 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 microsoft.com 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...)
  • Re:Better analogy (Score:2, Informative)

    by stevey ( 64018 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:14AM (#11743261) Homepage

    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 addition to selling their programs to other countries. I think it's pretty unfair, I'd love to buy a TV that was incapable of viewing their channels and not pay for the license, but it isn't possible).

  • 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 [netzero.net] and juno [juno.com], which are still around, still offering free ad-supported dialup access. They actually merged into one company, United Online, [unitedonline.net] 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.

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

    by andynz ( 686071 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:03AM (#11743480)
    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. Since Telecom was much larger than Clear, they were making money off the deal.

    Then Clear set up ZFree, the first free dial-up ISP. Thousands of Telecom customers every day were making calls lasting several hours, terminating on the Clear network. Clear started making money off the deal.

    A full description of what happened can be found at http://www.wlug.org.nz/ZFree [wlug.org.nz].

    There was also a second ISP called I4Free, they had a revenue sharing arrangement with Clear.

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

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:13AM (#11743529)
    Try it with:

    http://www.cooltechzone.com/special_images/adima ge *
    http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/ads *

    in your AdBlock list. Much better...
  • 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 uk2.net [uk2.net]. 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.
  • Re:How? (Score:2, Informative)

    by BP9 ( 516511 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:21AM (#11744018)
    A local sports bar chain (Wild Bill Buffalo Wings) has 'free' WiFi access from some company called HarborLink [harborlink.net].

    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.

    According to the manager of one of the bars they pay a monthly fee to harborlink but its "minimal".

    If they make money on this model it seems about as reasonable as one could expect. I still occasionally see their ads and its real internet access. If I was really offended I could just tunnel thru ssh to my squid proxy at home and bypass the ads - but why bother.

    Since many people will want to actually check mail (via POP3S, IMAPS, etc) a web proxy only internet service will hopefully go over poorly. If they allow https (which would be hard not to if they expect you to get your email via a browser) one can always tunnel (google for 'https ssh tunnel') trivially through an https proxy.
  • 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 kbahey ( 102895 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:03AM (#11744409) Homepage
    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 would never work, since local calls are free, and no revenue to share.
  • by X86Daddy ( 446356 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:40AM (#11744793) Journal
    This is not new, check out the original free community network [linksyscom...etwork.com].

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.