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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.
  • 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.
  • !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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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 just not a great general solution. Maybe there's some small group that wants it, but that probably won't justify the large cost of installing equipment at first. I predict this will go under for the same reasons the old free internet providers did.
  • 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 @06:47AM (#11743011)
    i think at 4$ a cup....they should splurge for the broadband conection and buy a 50$ router and waaaalllaaaaa freee internet for their wonerful zombies willing to pay 4$ for coffee....
  • 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.
  • Re:Should it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thbb ( 200684 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:06AM (#11743067) Homepage
    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 into consuming habits under the disguise of entertaining you.

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

    by Qa1 ( 592969 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:08AM (#11743075)

    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 it became something similar (e.g. webTV), lo and behold: it was based on a subscription model, ie non-free.

  • by FinestLittleSpace ( 719663 ) * on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:10AM (#11743082)
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • resedit! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by macman552 ( 675277 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:30AM (#11743129) Homepage
    ahh the good old days. I remember resediting my mac app for free dialup so the ads went bye-bye and i had total free internet. I also changed the version number, but that was a bad idea. I got an email from a developer at the company wondering why i had a copy of the 2.999999 software when the software was at 1.2 or something like that... hehe. I was very sad when that went under.
  • 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.

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

    by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:13AM (#11743255)
    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...
  • Uk already has them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by netean ( 549800 ) <[moc.rednaxelaniai] [ta] [liame]> 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)

    by The Cisco Kid ( 31490 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:02AM (#11743473)
    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?
  • 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 cmefford ( 810011 ) * <> 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.

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