Speakeasy Lets Consumers Become WISPs

By Eric Griffith

July 03, 2003

ISP Speakeasy has started a program that will let its consumer customers become the administrators of their own little wireless ISP service for neighbors.

For a long time, sharing a broadband connection was something users had to do surreptitiously -- most providers didn't want customers to hog bandwidth by letting others on the pipe. Broadband ISPs would build such clauses directly into their terms of service agreements. That meant having a home network with all the PCs online was against the rules.

These days, such fears are falling by the way side. For example, ISPs like Verizon sell networking equipment to their customers to help get multiple PCs online. But Seattle-based service provider Speakeasy , which has long encouraged sharing access with a home network, is going it one better, by introducing a program called NetShare that will allow a broadband customer to become the administrator to friends and neighbors that share that admin's connection.

The program is definitely geared toward the tech-savvy consumer, as the admin takes on the responsibility of helping set up wireless equipment (not provided by Speakeasy, by the way) for any friends and neighbors in range that sign up, as well as fixing any problems NetShare customers encounter. Admins, in effect, have to be available all the time -- just like anyone would want from their ISP.

The upside is, the administrator's broadband connection fees could end up getting paid for by his customers. The customers pay all fees directly to Speakeasy, which credits 50% of it back to the administrator's costs. The administrator also sets the price for customers, from either $20 to $50 (in $5 increments) or from $60 to $100 (in $10 increments).

Thus, if someone gets Speakeasy DSL service for $50, and becomes an admin charging three neighbors $20 each to access the line, that's $30 off the monthly charges the admin has to pay.

Admins can change the price anytime they want, but new prices will only impact new customers.

Admins are also responsible for security -- Speakeasy doesn't enforce any specifics, but recommends use of 128-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption keys at a minimum -- and admins are expected to do some advertising in their area to drum up customers. The company Web site recommends starting with flyers or targeted e-mails to people they know that are in range.

NetShare customers get not only the access to the admin's broadband connection for Internet access, but Speakeasy also provides them an e-mail address, newsgroup access, and backup dial-up access if needed.

Sharing the broadband wealth in the NetShare program is not limited to Wi-Fi users. If you're able to connect via Ethernet, HomePlug, or some other connection, that's fine. Plus it's not limited to admin's with DSL service -- those with high-bandwidth T1 lines can also become NetShare admins, helping cut down on the high costs of such a connection.

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