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The Fon Is Ringing, Starbucks

By Matt Wood in Miscellaneous on Feb 22, 2007 3:48PM

chicagoist_200702_logofon.pngFon is a community WiFi provider whose goal is to create a worldwide network of wireless users who agree to share their broadband connections with others who do the same. This might sound like a pipe dream, but they've gained enough traction to score backing from Google and Skype. Their latest project is to bribe people who live near Starbucks (or any other cafe, they say) to join their network and offer a cheap WiFi alternative to coffee shop customers. Fon gives you a free router, you share your existing broadband connection with Starbucks customers for $2 a day, and Fon splits the profits with you.

Sounds like a good deal since a T-Mobile day pass for WiFi access at Starbucks costs $10, but we'd bet Starbucks is none too pleased with this idea. On one hand, Fon's plan is no different than someone setting up a coffee shop right next door. They're offering a competing service to one offered by Starbucks, and at a much lower price. All's fair in the market economy, right? On the other hand, Starbucks probably wouldn't let Joe's Coffeehouse advertise its lattes inside one of their stores, and this is kind of what Fon is trying to do. If someone opens up their laptop in a Starbucks with a Fon hotspot nearby, they're going to see the Fon network pop up right next to the in-house one. It would be like going into a McDonald's and ordering a Whopper from the Burger King next door.

Chicagoist loves the idea of a price war between WiFi providers, and we were pleasantly surprised to see how many Fon users there are already in Chicago. But we doubt Starbucks is just going to let Fon do this without a fight. Expect colorful new legal terms like "digital trespsassing" to pop up as this story unfolds.