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February 21, 2011


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Andy, I don't think your dismissal of Fon is unfair. I ceased writing in my blog, Elfonblog.fondoo.net over a year ago, due to years of disappointment with Fon's progress, crazy games, and censorship of the Fon volunteer Community.

Fon is not a new or genius idea. Fon is a carbon copy of dozens of preexisting, nearly identical systems, based also on open-source software. This became quite clear to me once I entered the scene and started taking notes for Fon-ideas. See the sidebar of my blog for examples. Fon's main distinction is that they blew €15M on re-badged, discontinued Accton routers that were given away, and discounts to encourage sales of their later merchandise. It's a matter of breifly successful publicity, and nothing else.

This brings me to what is so ironic about your particular post today. Leading up to Fon's official launch in 2006, Martin Varsavsky had been describing Fon in interviews as a movement, like TriBair, to blanket the world with a software application, which would provide ad-hoc wifi, via dedicated PCs, specifically for WiFi VOIP handsets. Sort of a poor-man's femtocell featuring rock-bottom airtime rates. He stated their intention was to openly challenge monopolistic telcos everywhere. There was no interest in wifi for other purposes. But when they launched, they had somehow become a peddler of hardware, to provide for-pay hotspots, at their inflexibly fixed worldwide rate, with 66% or more of the funds collected taken by them for largely unexplained reasons.

The final straw was an email exchange between myself, Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky and Alex Puregger. They bounced me back and forth, Martin saying "we have no secrets" and "Alex will answer your questions" (about my rough analysis of Fon's dreadful failure to sell routers, get the routers they sold registered, and to keep them online. All the while, they periodically announced that sales/membership/profit had leapt and bounded across yet another fantastic goal after goal. See my final blog posts and examine the pie graphs. The overwhelming majority of "The Fon Network" consists of the "partners", even as Fon insists on counting their routers that are permanently offline, or never even registered!) Alex would then insist that he could not discuss these figures due to "confidentiality agreements" with Fon's partners.

All of my data came from those partner's own websites.

Martin would pointedly never address my questions, other than to delegate them to one he knew would not cooperate, but kept complaining that actually merely asking them was insulting (and perhaps disloyal!). Shortly afterwords, Martin directed a comment to his critics, in his own blog, along with pictures of himself and friends cruising the ocean on his yacht. He wrote that he didn't care what people said any more, because he had achieved wealth and luxury, and it was good times like these which was all he cared about.

In my opinion, Fon has consistently LIED that Fon was a provider of "free wifi" and that they "split the money collected". With only a few highly-conditional exceptions, wifi access is free only to those who purchase Fon's merchandise. Fon actively hides the fact that they actually "split" only what is left over after taxes are taken out, and apparently other fees are paid to ISPs for their cooperation. I broke that down too, in another blog post. What is worrying is that in the USA, where there are no VAT taxes, Fon still confiscates about the same %33 up front, before "splitting" the remainder, for a total of two thirds or more. It suggests that they are pocketing it. Fon's email response to me was to paste a snippet from their "legal team" that was supposed to explain why they feel they do not have to itemize these deductions from a hotspot's revenue. I'm not trained in legalese, but it was very brief, and didn't seem to have anything to do with the question. The customer service member (the teenage son of Fon's "head USA Fonero") also advised me that he had directed the whole CSR team to ignore my questions from then on!

I could write about so much more, and if you want to see some of the (admittedly unleashed) things I've written, another resource is the discontinued boards.fon.com **which they announced will be taken down soon**. Most of my posts are helping community members, and contributing to ideas, brainstorming and troubleshooting. I stubbornly resisted Fon's first attempts to purge the board of independent thought. I was one of a very small core group left from the beginning. Fon was extremely slow to react to complaints about trolls that abused me for long periods of time, yet very quick to threaten me with banning for such reasons as "my comments did not appropriately balance criticism with praise"! My creative contributions were gradually overwhelmed with the effort to recount what Fon had originally claimed to be doing, and when and how they shifted in almost Orwellian manner. Many of their rationales to us hinged upon jaw-droppingly creative reinterpretation of terms they had used in past announcements. In my opinion, they were misleading the community from the very start.

If you don't see any of my posts under "AustinTX", then you may be looking instead at Fon's "replacement" forum that was launched to restart community discussion under stronger, "praise us or shut up" rules. This forum would not let me register under any user name while connected through the small ISP I used at the time. It was too much trouble to go somewhere else to get a connection, and I was not allowed to blog or post at work. Using a Fon hotspot was out of the question too, because Austin is blanketed with dead hotspot locations, as one of my blog posts explores. I gave up posting out of simple disgust. I gave up blogging after that, because I don't simply repost their product release announcements, and Fon was no longer doing anything of interest to the hobbyist.

Andy, I know i've written quite a volume here, and if it makes any difference, I'm also a long-time listener to your KenRadio show with Ken Rutkowski. It's been nearly a year since i've written a word about Fon. My ties to them have never been anything beyond as a hobbyist contributor. I'd be very pleased if you would post my comments.

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