A Wireless End Run Around ISPs

by Volker Weber

blackbeltjones.gifBroadband subscribers can use simple Wi-Fi gear to share their connections with neighbors -- and "warchalking" spreads the word. Information architect Matt Jones, posted a set of rune-like symbols to his Web site designed to alert Internet users when and where wireless broadband was available. The idea: Create a set of international road signs to the Internet. Two half-moons chalked on a pavement or a wall indicate that a connection is available. A full circle informs would-be surfers that the node is closed.

"We're joking that a piece of chalk could destroy the entire multibillion-pound 3G [third-generation wireless] industry," laughs Jones. But this could be anything but a joke. "The telecom industries are addicted to the one-wire, one-customer philosophy, which means that growth in use directly equates with growth in direct user fees," warns Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University and an expert in network economics. "If it suddenly becomes easy to share broadband with anyone within a [1,000 foot] range, then, as with Napster, you have quickly and easily lowered coordination costs. And it's only coordination costs that make it possible for the big guys to make money of each and every user."

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