Once upon a time, over a decade ago, to get online your computer needed to make a phone call to an internet service provider who would then give you access to the world wide web at an abysmally slow 0.05 megabits per second. Since your computer could dial any number to connect to the web, just like you can dial any number to reach a human being, there was a ton of competition between service providers. One company that got a lot of attention was NetZero. Their key differentiating feature was that they didn’t charge anything for internet connectivity. Instead they installed a toolbar on your computer that was damn near impossible to get rid of. Because they knew the sites you were looking at, they could offer you highly relevant ads. Niklas Zennström, one of Skype’s co-founders, wants to bring back the NetZero business model, but not with dial-up. He’s decided to partner with the as yet to launch 4G LTE wireless operator LightSquared.
FreedomPop, which is a name so ill-conceived that it makes us wince every time we read it, will launch in 2012, pending of course LightSquared getting approval to turn on their network. “The Internet is a right, not a privilege,” says Matt Ingrid, COO of FreedomPop. True as that might be, nothing is stopping people from taking their laptops to their local WiFi enabled café or better yet their local public library, where they might actually pick up a book or two and learn something instead of just poking their Facebook friends. Now when NetZero was doing their free service, privacy advocates weren’t too vocal about people’s traffic being monitored in order to subsidize service. This is 2011 though, and we’re sure they’ll be plenty of complaints.
Whether or not FreedomPop take off, we honestly could care less. Right now we’re just waiting to find out if LightSquared will even be allowed to exist.