One of the challenges FON – a wireless-sharing company that I’ve been on the US advisory board of for the past year (see my disclosure policy) – has been convincing internet service providers that the company is an ally, not a competitor. FON works by allowing you to open your wireless access point to users, who can pay a small fee ($3 a day, $2 for additional days) to access your connectivity – in exchange for opening your WAP, you gain the ability to roam freely on other FON hotspots. US ISPs generally have user agreements that prevent you from reselling your bandwidth in this way – some have agreements that prohibit you from sharing your bandwidth, period.
Time Warner Cable announced a partnership today where they’re allowing, and actively encouraging, their subscribers to become Foneros. The logic? Competitors to Time Warner are looking for solutions to allow users of their broadband to roam when they’re away from home, some by using cellular data services, others by using closed wireless networks owned by the company. Time Warner can now fight back without having to build its own wireless network. I’m hopeful that this is the first of many ISPs to try leveraging the FON network – more users on the network means more access points. Despite the fact that FON has the largest number of access points in the US, you’re less likely to find a FON router than a T-Mobile one, for instance, in a city cafe as FON access points are run from people’s homes and less often in commercial establishments.
Congrats to the FON folks – it’s been a huge barrier to convince US ISPs of the advantages of working with FON rather than fighting the model – I hope this is the first of many similar announcements, and that this helps start a trend of more flexible user agreements for broadband internet service, whether people share it commercially through FON or non-commercially through open wireless access points or community networks.