March 7th, 2007 5:33 pm | by Lance Kramer News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Politics

Kiss My Wi-fi, Starbucks

FON Anti-Starbucks

About three weeks ago, early in the morning, some small-time crooks jammed up door locks with superglue at a handful of Starbucks shops across town.

Well, if lock-jamming was a small slap in the face for the caffeine empire, then this month internet behemoths Google, Inc. and Skype take a shot right for the metaphorical Starbucks jugular.

A Madrid-based company called FON, backed with $21.7 million in funding from the two techno-big boys, has started a campaign to place wireless routers directly next to Starbucks locations across the world—and offer Wi-fi access for a fraction of the price that Starbucks currently charges its customers ($9.99 for a 24-hour day pass through a partnership with T-Mobile, available in over 5,100 Starbucks locations nationwide).

The self-titled "anti-Starbucks" campaign uses revolutionary-styled images that read "Movimiento FON" in iconic Starbucks green and black—a kind of anti-corporate faux spray-painted tag Che Guevara might leave on the brick wall of a Starbucks, if he were still around today.

The campaign is just one component of FON's more grandiose plan to create an intricate cyber-social networking system of wireless brothers and sisters. In a matter of months, FON hopes to break down the corporate cup-a-joe's stronghold on access in retail and transport hubs worldwide and replace it with lower-cost, "community-based" access. Already, it's got about 300,000 users in 140 countries with more than 100,000 access points up and running, with 40,000 users in the US alone.

So what exactly does all this mean?

In the FON world, there are three kinds of people, and the company has appropriately goofy names for each. For $39.95, anyone can purchase a special wireless router from FON, called "La Fonera," and become an official "LINUS." Plug in the FON router to your own personal internet connection, and using FON's software, the connection becomes available to the public. As long as you share your own connection at home, you can also surf for free on any other FON router worldwide. FON's anti-Starbucks campaign offers to waive the $40 and provide a free router to anyone living within a block or so of a Starbucks chain, with plans to distribute as many as 10,000 routers initially.

FON people

Flunked out of kindergarten and don't feel compelled to share? Then for $3 a day, be an "ALIEN" and surf online for less than the price of competing services like T-Mobile or Boingo. Everytime an alien pays for internet access, FON takes $1.50, and the person sharing their connection, known as a "BILL," makes a buck-fifty too.

A quick search on FON's interactive map that only three hot-spots are live in Portland now, not a strong presence in a town that already has hundreds of other independent and city-sponsored free access points already. But FON folks say that may change quickly.

Starbucks offered a blasé response to inquiries about FON: We believe that the increase in Wi-Fi hot spots is a good thing—it builds awareness and it helps increase customer adoption of Wi-Fi across the board. That being said, there are some differences between other Wi-Fi services and the service Starbucks offers through T-Mobile. The T-Mobile HotSpot service at Starbucks is high speed with dedicated T-1 lines, is highly reliable and is available in more than 5,100 Starbucks stores across the U.S. Additionally, our customers have access to excellent customer service help from T-Mobile.
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