Varsavsky's Folly: the precedents ain't good

One man's blog-beatified Wi-Fi adventure

Is Fon, the utopian Wi-Fi project from Argentine dot com billionaire Martin Varsavsky, for real? Or is it a tax write-off? Fon may be giddy with revolutionary rhetoric, and its advisory board packed with Berkman bloggers, but the precedents aren't good.

Readers with far sharper memories than us remind us that the idea has been tried before - and failed.

"Everything old is new again!" says Tim, who points out that an outfit called Joltage Network tried revenue sharing Wi-Fi.

Joltage was founded by veteran schmoozer Andrew Weinreich, who had made a mint from selling the Six Degrees site. Like VON, Joltage also offered software that would turn private hotspots into mini ISPs.

It lasted a year.

"Unfortunately, it appears that it will take substantially longer than expected for the significant numbers of users we anticipated on such a network to materialize," the company said in a flame-out statement in February 2003.

Then there's the case of the UK start-up MyZones, which in May 2003 claimed that its DIY franchise would halve the cost of wireless internet access.

This time the MTTU (or "Mean Time to Titsup") was thirteen months, and MyZones disappeared in confusing circumstances. (Thanks to John for the reminder).

"Too bad the [FON] stock isn't publicly traded, as I'd love to be able to get in on shorting it," writes Tim.

Meanwhile, the merry bunch of bloggers, the Fon "Advisory Board" which Versavsky is depending to spread the word profess themselves shocked - simply shocked! - at allegations of payola.

"I have never felt more abused in an interview with a reporter in my eight years talking to the press than I did with her," blubs David Isenberg, referring to the WSJ

Isenberg says that it isn't fair to say that the FON "Advisory Board" is in Varsavsky's pay - using this curious logic:

"In fact, technically, we are NOT compensated, as no written agreement is in place, just a nonspecific verbal intent. We don't know if we're getting warrants or options or stock. We don't know how much. We don't know the terms."

"We trust FON founder Varsavsky to figure out something fail (sic) because he is our friend."

One can protest too much.®

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