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'FON' Has Fun With U.S. Launch

BURLINGAME, Calif. -- If introducing a volunteer-based global network of Wi-Fi hotspots sounds like a crazy idea, you might as well have some fun with the process.

That was the strategy behind Wednesday's "formal" launch of the idea known as "FON" here at the O'Reilly Emerging Telephony conference, an intro that was as formal as sneakers at a black-tie dinner.

FON, which was started last year by Argentine telecom entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, has already started signing up people in Europe who are agreeing to share their Internet access by allowing other FON users to freely access their wireless routers. Other users may simply pay to use the FON network of hotspots, much like you would pay for any other Internet-access service.

While the idea has a huge list of unanswered questions standing between it and success -- not the smallest of which are legal terms of service that can prohibit "sharing" of broadband access -- on Wednesday the company was in full crusade mode in front of a largely appreciative audience of telephony geeks, who answered affiratively almost in unison when asked if they had a Wi-Fi router at home.

FON's leader for North America, the charismatic Ejovi Nuwere, drew more than a few laughs with FON's over-the-top promotions, which included postcards left in the show hotel's men's bathrooms that showed a shadow outline of a person sitting on a toilet using a laptop computer under the company's "Wi-Fi Everywhere" logo.

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