In Box

Sharing the Net

Entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky wants to build the world’s largest wi-fi network. Not by erecting towers or laying cable, but by asking people to share. By joining Varsavsky’s network, called FON, users exchange a bit of their Internet bandwidth for money or free access on the network. When they sign up, users choose to be either ...

Entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky wants to build the world’s largest wi-fi network. Not by erecting towers or laying cable, but by asking people to share.

By joining Varsavsky’s network, called FON, users exchange a bit of their Internet bandwidth for money or free access on the network. When they sign up, users choose to be either a "Linus" or a "Bill." Linuses (think Linux founder Linus Torvalds) give away free access to their Internet connections. Bills (as in Bill Gates) use Varsavsky’s software to charge modest fees for access.

The service could be promising in places such as Africa, where bandwidth is rare and expensive, and leaving your connection open encourages abuse. FON allows people to control the percentage of bandwidth they give up, increasing the incentive to share (and spread) Internet access.

There are already about 24,000 FON members around the world. Maybe sharing isn’t such a foreign idea after all.

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