January 30, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Spanish start-up Whisher promises free Wi-Fi for all

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Spanish start-up Whisher promises free Wi-Fi for all A small Spanish start-up called Whisher is thumbing its nose at U.S. broadband providers as it prepares to launch a new service that lets people share their broadband connections via Wi-Fi.

Whisher, based in Barcelona and backed by Switzerland's leading phone company, Swisscom, and the venture firm Benchmark Capital, is one of several emerging start-ups that is taking broadband to the people by providing access through existing residential Wi-Fi networks.

"Either you believe in the user-generated revolution or you believe ISPs rule the world."
--Ferran Moreno, co-founder and CEO of Whisher

Starting Tuesday, users can download the beta version of the company's software from its Web site. The service and software are free. Users aren't required to offer up their own Wi-Fi access to use other Wi-Fi networks around the world.

Wi-Fi, which uses unlicensed radio frequency technology for accessing the Internet, is a relatively cheap and ubiquitous technology. Not only is it embedded in almost every laptop shipped today, but mobile devices such as cell phones are also coming equipped with the technology.

While companies such as EarthLink are building new networks to blanket cities like Philadelphia and New Orleans with Wi-Fi signals, Whisher and Fon Wireless, another Spanish start-up, are banking on the willingness of large numbers of people to share their excess broadband with others. And just as Skype, another European start-up, challenged the established telephone companies by providing free Internet calling, Whisher also hopes to shake up the establishment by offering an easy way to share and access Wi-Fi for free.

"Either you believe in the user-generated revolution or you believe ISPs rule the world," said Ferran Moreno, co-founder and CEO of Whisher. "I believe ISPs don't rule the world and how the Internet works. If I am paying for my broadband, I have the right to share it with other people, as long as I am not reselling the service. And we are not reselling access."

Of course, there is one small snag in Moreno's utopian view of free Wi-Fi for everyone. In the U.S., it's illegal.

"Sharing broadband access outside of your dwelling is a violation of our subscriber agreement," said Maureen Huff, a spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable, the second largest cable operator in the U.S. "We've taken steps as a company to inform our customers that passive or active theft of our services is illegal, and people who violate these agreements can be prosecuted on a criminal and civil basis."

Time Warner and other broadband providers such as Verizon Communications said it's rare that they have to take action against subscribers sharing their broadband service outside their home. When they become aware of such a situation, the broadband providers typically contact subscribers and remind them of the companies' policies. In 90 percent of the cases, users stop sharing their broadband, Huff said.

But representatives from each company said that if illegal sharing persists, the company takes action, which could result in users getting their service cut off or even facing prosecution.

"We don't actively police this," said Bobbi Henson, a spokeswoman for Verizon Communications. "But if we become aware of a situation, we will do something, especially if we see a degradation of service. We have a duty to our customers to keep an optimum level of service."

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9 comments

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Interesting concept but..
3 points.

Why do you need special software. If you just leave the router with public access then it will do the same thing. I know there may be concerns around security, but how trustworthy are these systems.

From a legal standpoint I don't think it will be allowed to succeed. It would be like a gym membership. Where one person joins and then passes the membership card around so the gym is used full time. The pricing for gyms and broadband services for consumers is based on there not being 100% utilisation. If you want 100% utilisation then it will cost a lot more.

Finally, broadband is becoming a commodity. In the UK it comes free with cable, satelitte and some phone services, so why would I have to sponge.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
plus...
Plus, I'm still too paranoid about someone joining the network simply to locate WiFi connections and then compromise the PCs connected.

Otherwise, I'd share my WiFi. I can't get DSL in my neighborhood because too many other people have it so I'm stuck with stupid overpriced cable. For the price I'm paying, it deserves free access.

Granted, my crummy little router would mean you'd need to sit in my driveway to access it and we can't have that.

So I guess that's two strikes against it already.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
it's wrong to suggest this is targetted at 'spongers' looking for free web
I think far more realistically, this points the way toward a future where people are willing to pay for broadband, no-traffic-limit, access at home, but will become increasingly unwilling to pay more simply for the benefit of mobile access - which is what this is really all about! with ubiquitous WiFi access, or at least in cities - skype and other VoIP will become more and more used and eventually cellular providers will starting HAVING TO provide cheap or free calls and more importantly broadband-level-cheap data access.
Posted by benmantle (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Internet used to be FREE!
The Internet, yes even a wired connection used to be free. In fact there is no reason for ISP's to charge for anonymous access, its E-mail accounts, and web space that cost (little) money, not the actual access. There are 2 possible futures ahead, one where communication is free, and thus civilization will be freed, and one where it is controlled, monitored, and charged up the wazu for, then prosecuted for, against free speech. The later, which I am suprised no one is objecting to, will enslave us all. A wireless network is the best method of providing free communication (minimal infra structure costs), and ensuring free speech. An anonymous access point does not cost anymore than the electricity in the wire, or EM over the airwaves, the protocols and very design of the internet itself were made this way, to be free. The protocols and computers provide the service, most your money flows like a river (no trickle down here) right back to the top, and have nothing to do with your account or access or services. Granted there is real maintanence and infrastructure costs assoiciated with a wired network, but not a purely wireless one. Although I am sure many ISP's would have you believe that if you don't pay, the EM Spectrum will just stop working.

Free Communication = Free Knowledge = Free People
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Food and transport should be free too!
Food and transport should be free too, since they are necessities by your definitions. While we are at it, how about clothing and shoes?

Fact is we need to pay for everything we want and work for it if necessary. Free is in Venezuela, for a limited time. Go live there if that's the lifestyle you want, and see if you will survive the day!

Communication is free, but you need to pay for the phone if you want one and your connection too, horror of horrors!!! There is no purely wireless network. If you must know, they are all connected to wired networks, that cost to build and operate.

When you grow up you'll discover, "There aint no free ride." (Economics 101)
Posted by v_noronha (18 comments )
Link Flag
ISPs are fascists!
I just got off the phone with my ISP. They're forcing me to upgrade to an $80/month plan from a $30/month plan just so I can host my own server because they block out port 80 (the standard web port) from incoming traffic. Not to mention that they "supposedly" give me 1.5 Mbits/s downstream and 512 Kbits/s upstream.

The only viable alternative to the autocracy is a cable provider, which gives fast speeds, but has god awful reliablity. So I'm in the middle of a rock and hard place, all caused by the lack of variety in terms of service provider here. Maybe I should start my own ISP business......
Posted by windsamurai (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free.
Didn't Atlanta begin a program to provide internet wireless to
the poorer community? But that would violate the free-for-all-
as-long-as-you-bought-a-politician-rule. Soon they'll privatize
air, have a 2 year contract for breathing and add as many hidden
charges as they can.
Posted by flashfast (38 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The term "illegal" should be used carefully
I like this post
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.waltmire.com/blog/archives/2007/02/01/broadband-breach/" target="_newWindow">http://www.waltmire.com/blog/archives/2007/02/01/broadband-breach/</a>

because it tackles the WiFi sharing issue with arguments and not just based on a personal belief that everything outside the norm is illegal...
Posted by Ferran Moreno (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Once You download the bits, they are yours.
TOSs that limit connection porting are probably uninforcable.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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