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Startup Launches Open Wi-Fi, Challenging ISPs

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the have-some-internet dept.

Businesses 65

Chuckles08 writes "Forbes has a story about how FreedomPop is trying to disrupt the public Wi-fi business. From the article: 'Getting hosed by your Internet service provider may seem as inevitable as death and taxes, but a new startup aims to change that. Startup FreedomPop, which is backed by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, DCM and Mangrove Capital, provides cheaper Internet access and the ability for people to share access with others on its network.'"

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Internet as a commodity (3, Insightful)

gagol (583737) | about 2 years ago | (#42270249)

I hope it can disrupt the connectivity oligopoly that reigns at the moment. North America's connectivity is, on average, twice as bad as Romania in 30 something position. Lets do this!

Re:Internet as a commodity (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270299)

And yet Romanians are fleeing their country at such record rates that they're second class citizens in their own second class citizen creating union. Off topic? Apparently.

Re:Internet as a commodity (0)

gagol (583737) | about 2 years ago | (#42270441)

Thank you validating my point...

Re:Internet as a commodity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42271687)

Are you trying to say that Romania is a shit-hole of a country and still has better Internet access? Soon Sub-Saharan Africa will have better internet access than the USA. North Korea isn't far behind.

Lets find the poorest countries in the world and talk about how they're about to surpass the USA in Internet access.

Re:Internet as a commodity (2)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#42272005)

I hope it can disrupt the connectivity oligopoly that reigns at the moment. North America's connectivity is, on average, twice as bad as Romania in 30 something position. Lets do this!

There's only one resource the government cannot absolutely control and manipulate at the behest of their corporate masters: The air. If you want better internet, a free and open internet, that is resistant to censorship and manipulation of commercial interests, you're going to have to start with making a wireless technology that is capable of sending data at a high rate of speed over considerable distance, be resistant to jamming and fading, and even more resistant to being triangulated and traced back to its source.

Mesh networking technologies and protocols are not robust yet, owing to the simple problem that once you're part of the network, as a peer you can overwhelm any of your neighbors with a denial of service attack. Anonymity seems incompatible with a trust network, the only effective defense in a truly decentralized communications medium from the widescale propagation of such tactics.

Encryption and onion-routing can prevent tampering or surveillance, to a point. But with all of these technologies assembled together, it's almost a given that a vulnerability or weakness in the infrastructure will be discovered -- it's simply too complex. And then you have the problem of upgrading to eradicate the problem. As we've seen with IPv6 deployment, even when the hardware and technology is mature and developed, migrating to new protocols is something many are resistant to, despite offering the same services and only enhancing existing infrastructure; There are no real drawbacks.

Software defined radio may one day provide us with the raw tools to create a global wireless network that can operate securely and independently of the control of even the largest governments on the planet, but the technology and availability of materials isn't there yet -- it's still too cost-prohibitive, not just from an R&D perspective (it would take thousands of people worldwide coordinating the build up of such a device, and many tens of thousands to deploy it), but also from the fact that to organize that many people is impossible to do covertly, and given the consequences if it were to succeed, every major government on the planet would devote large amounts of law enforcement resources to preventing it.

That said, criminals are already taking the first baby-steps towards this technology -- a massive wireless communications network is running in Mexico that the drug cartels are using (by kidnapping telco and RF engineers!) for exactly this purpose. Although it is still very primitive and the equipment easy enough to locate, it's already proving a real headache and far more feasible than anyone anticipated.

Re:Internet as a commodity (1)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#42272131)

you're going to have to start with making a wireless technology that is capable of sending data at a high rate of speed over considerable distance, be resistant to jamming and fading, and even more resistant to being triangulated and traced back to its source.

You mean, a laundry list of things that are mostly not even theoretically possible? Just because you have a long wishlist doesn't mean any of those things are feasible, or even make sense.

Re:Internet as a commodity (1)

thoughtlover (83833) | about 2 years ago | (#42284651)

I really don't recall just how technically-specific Cory Doctorow got, but this is something out of his book, "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," where a side character is setting up an ad-hoc mesh network. Yeah, it can work for a city, but someone's gonna have to provide the 'last mile' of data from some server miles away running on a corporate-owned line. But, it's a start. Unfortunately, many cities were sued for trying to make their own network for free access on the grounds of unfair competitive advantage.

Re:Internet as a commodity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42277913)

Does "twice as bad" mean half as good? Or is there a quantifiable level of "badness" that I am failing to see?

Prediction: (5, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#42270273)

At some point, someone is going to get into *serious* legal trouble through this. Most likely via someone using their connection transfering child porn and getting caught. It only has to happen once. The story will be widely publicised, including all the horrifying details of the caught-in-the-middle victim having their life torn apart, losing their job, being vilified by their neighbours, and having every computer, phone, games console, hard drive and USB stick they own confiscated as evidence. As a result of this, other users will be terrified to share their connection and risk becoming the next victim of an investigation.

The same reason there are so few tor exit nodes.

Re:Prediction: (3, Interesting)

gagol (583737) | about 2 years ago | (#42270283)

ipv6 could address this problem very easily... no nat allowed on the box, every device have its own ip.

Re:Prediction: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42272427)

Mind if i borrow your MAC? ;)

Re:Prediction: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42274921)

IPv6 can't NAT? That's news to me.

Re:Prediction: (1)

TemporalBeing (803363) | about 2 years ago | (#42275015)

ipv6 could address this problem very easily... no nat allowed on the box, every device have its own ip.

There is still NAT capabilities with IPv6. Of course, that is also assuming the home networks run IPv6 internally as opposed to using IPv4 internally and the router device (cable/DSL/fibre modems) converting to IPv6.

Re:Prediction: (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270381)

Won't get that far. Comcast is part of the MPAA now... they'll just wait all 30 seconds until someone downloads an illegal copy of a movie, then sue with everything they have. FreedomPop will burn through all their startup funds paying legal fees, and blink out of existence.

Re:Prediction: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270401)

Why do you believe they will wait a full 30 seconds?

Re:Prediction: (5, Funny)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about 2 years ago | (#42271361)

It's how long the evil laugh goes for.

Re:Prediction: (4, Interesting)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 2 years ago | (#42270387)

At some point, someone is going to get into *serious* legal trouble through this. Most likely via someone using their connection transfering child porn and getting caught. It only has to happen once.

Nothing can ever happen if everyone is always content to sit in the corner cowering in fear of what could happen. Such a society would suck ass.

I would counter your argument by asking a stupid question... How many tens? hundreds? of millions of PCs are compromised botnet zombies?

Why could not the same argument of CP raid risk be extended to simply owning a PC? We've all heard of encryption ransomware why not CP raid ransom or your compromised system being used to traffic the same? What is the difference?

Re:Prediction: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42271153)

Nothing can ever happen if everyone is always content to sit in the corner cowering in fear of what could happen. Such a society would suck ass.

Yeah.... wait, hang on -- there's a TV show about a killer asteroid on, brb.

Re:Prediction: (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 2 years ago | (#42277215)

Nothing can ever happen if everyone is always content to sit in the corner cowering in fear of what could happen. Such a society would suck ass.

Yeah.... wait, hang on -- there's a TV show about a killer asteroid on, brb.

That's not a TV show, that's the news about the nearly 3 mile wide asteroid that passed ~half way between the moon and Earth yesterday. [slashdot.org]
Similarly to being afraid of the possibility of being prosecuted for violating unjust laws about sharing your internet connection, we also need to stop being afraid to spend too much money on things like NASA. In either case: You can't spend too much money trying to ensure at least some of your eggs are in another basket.

Re:Prediction: (1)

shentino (1139071) | about 2 years ago | (#42271497)

It doesn't matter.

If you piss off the elite they will come after you.

Re:Prediction: (1)

Macrat (638047) | about 2 years ago | (#42278019)

Nothing can ever happen if everyone is always content to sit in the corner cowering in fear of what could happen.

It worked out well for Napster.

Re:Prediction: (1)

Aaden42 (198257) | about 2 years ago | (#42278815)

The CP virus stuff has happened and nearly ruined at least one person's life. Unfortunately can't cite my source at the moment.

The fundamental difference though is that people generally don't *choose* to get infected with viruses. The CP virus hits, some people get scared, but most of them wouldn't know how to clean their PC nor keep it clean if their life depended on it. (And let's face it, given how CP is treated legally, your life kind of does depend on it... )

CP hits a shared wireless connection like this, and most people are able to see the solution quite clearly: Throw out that little router box they gave you or don't sign up for it in the first place. Easy fix that even your most dedicated luddite can figure out.

Re:Prediction: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270405)

yeah see it happening all the time with open wifis from starbucks and mcdonalds, they are used by bin laden and lead with the store manager being sent to guantanamo

Re:Prediction: (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#42270709)

But those are operated by companies with dedicated legal departments. Most police departments know better than to mess around with a mega-corp.

Re:Prediction: (3, Interesting)

fph il quozientatore (971015) | about 2 years ago | (#42270431)

I know a few people in Germany that run a free public Wi-Fi network and they have tried to get registered as an internet provider (alas, without success). Providers are not held liable for what people do using their connection; why should this be legally different? It seems that the only difference is that you are not paying for it.

Re:Prediction: (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270839)

I know a few people in Germany that run a free public Wi-Fi network and they have tried to get registered as an internet provider (alas, without success). Providers are not held liable for what people do using their connection; why should this be legally different? It seems that the only difference is that you are not paying for it.

If it takes a charge to be registered as an ISP, then charge for it - charge 0.01 Euro per 10 years, to be paid in 2099.

Re:Prediction: (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 2 years ago | (#42271761)

My guess is that a registered ISP must do proper logging and work with law-enforcement when it comes to data requests, otherwise face being fined/etc.

ISP classification? (1)

CaptainNerdCave (982411) | about 2 years ago | (#42275801)

In a nutshell, the ISP where I work doesn't do any active logging beyond the basic router logs. Right now, 90-95% of our customers are NATed, so we don't even lease that many public IPs from the tier 2 provider we use. To my knowledge, the most we do is provide information when it is requested (within reason), or by court order.

There was a customer with some suspicious activity from their modem that connected to (I'm not joking) known international IPs of organizations that are bad news. When we were contacted by the FBI to find out who this person might be, we learned that this activity (millisecond-length bursts of data) is part of a known botnet. Had the company been subpoenaed, we would have had little information to provide, other than the router logs that only track MAC/IP history (I don't think we even use an extensive DNS history).

Is this because the company is fairly small, and the percentage of offending traffic is negligible or not even present? Maybe. I do know that one of the employees has been pretty aggressive with the amount of MAFIAA material he torrents on the network, but I don't know that it's even been something that has caused us to get unsavory attention.

in France you have FDN (1)

Herve5 (879674) | about 2 years ago | (#42273971)

... FDN here is an ISP for more than 10 years now, non-profit, and I believe the only one that does not restrict you from re-providing your access, via wifi for instance, to other people "in the street".

All others ISPs in the country have definitive restrictions, which oblige for instance all hotels and campings to apply for specific different contracts (which, guess what, are much more costly)

FDN has the curious intent to demultiplicate themselves into smaller, regional ISPs rather than "getting more customers nationwide". Clearly they believe this to be more robust, but I'm not really convinced. I for one am still a customer of the earliest, Paris-based instance, while living 500 Km southwards ...

ISPs like FDN are IMHO the only way to plug an open wifi network and stash the antenna on your balcony, legally, at the time being here.

Re:Prediction: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270505)

It won't catch on. It's too late.

People are addicted to large data traffic. They need movies streaming, downloads, online gaming and other things that require a lot of bandwidth. An open model might work, but not with wi-fi, not the one we have today.

Re:Prediction: (2)

alexgieg (948359) | about 2 years ago | (#42270825)

The same reason there are so few tor exit nodes.

What we really need is some kind of low cost "FreeBox" appliance running some kind of fully cryptographed, non-open-Internet-connected, private, distributed, point-to-point, wireless network, perhaps running the Freenet project or something similar, that people could attach to their routers and instantly get access to it alongside their commercial Internet connection. That, and people willing to install it all around, so that whenever you go you get anonymous access to the parallel network. And a law or judicial decision protecting such nodes as free speech. I don't see any other way for an open network to remain available on the long run...

Re:Prediction: (2)

jakimfett (2629943) | about 2 years ago | (#42275011)

You mean like my wireless darknet project [darkpi.com] ? Yeah, people are working on it, but you know how it is...we all gotta live, and between playing server admin, school, and trying to find a long term job, it's tough to find time (and money) to dedicate to it.

Re:Prediction: (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 2 years ago | (#42271713)

Same goes for Tor. I'd never run a Tor endpoint on my connection, because people use it for all kinds of nefarious activity. Last time I tried Tor, I went to 4chan (not that I need Tor for 4chan, but I was just testing various sites), and found that the endpoint I had connected to was banned, for guest what? child porn. When the authorities find out that child porn was coming through your connection, they don't go and know politely at your door. They bash the door in, in the middle of the night, and all your neighbours somehow find out about it. I've read enough news stories to know that I don't want to be sharing my internet connection with somebody else, because for all the good it could do, there's a lot of bad that could happen as well.

Re:Prediction: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42273575)

Same goes for Tor. I'd never run a Tor endpoint on my connection, because people use it for all kinds of nefarious activity. Last time I tried Tor, I went to 4chan (not that I need Tor for 4chan, but I was just testing various sites), and found that the endpoint I had connected to was banned, for guest what? child porn. When the authorities find out that child porn was coming through your connection, they don't go and know politely at your door. They bash the door in, in the middle of the night, and all your neighbors somehow find out about it. I've read enough news stories to know that I don't want to be sharing my internet connection with somebody else, because for all the good it could do, there's a lot of bad that could happen as well.

Banned from a child porn site for posting child porn? Seems unlikely.

Byte Range Proxies (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 2 years ago | (#42271745)

the caught-in-the-middle victim

Assuming for the moment that the real problem comes from IP's logged by servers and handed over to the cops, so that TLS won't solve this - has anybody worked on a distributed HTTP proxy that will scatter and gather HTTP byte range requests?

The person using the proxy system would get the whole file, but each proxy itself would only ever get a part of the file. I'm also assuming that a judge would throw out a charge for downloading 1/100th of a naughty picture.

Re:Byte Range Proxies (1)

jakimfett (2629943) | about 2 years ago | (#42275469)

That's quite an idea, care to enlighten us? I was bouncing around some ideas similar to this for my darknet project, but it was never more than an idea.

Re:Byte Range Proxies (1)

jakimfett (2629943) | about 2 years ago | (#42275617)

I mentioned you in a news update [darkpi.com] , please feel free to comment if this sort of thing interests you.

Share access? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270285)

This is just as fucking insane as running a Tor exit node. Have fun when les federales show up at your door and lock you in a cage for distributing child porn.

Also, the only reason we ever hear about this is because some douchebag who made Skype approves of it.

Re:Share access? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270415)

If more people did it then the feds wouldn't have such an easy time busting down peoples doors. The whole reason the courts are OK with it is because it is seen as highly probable that the owner or someone within the household committed a crime. However if you have shared access then there is a higher chance that a neighbor did it. If you multiply that and half of the busts are of innocent people there it defeats the points of busting people in the first place.

Re:Share access? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270445)

Or they get an excuse to bust anyone for any reason.

Re:Share access? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270619)

That includes themselves.

Yes, a Skype co-founder (5, Informative)

guises (2423402) | about 2 years ago | (#42270311)

I was keen on this until I had a look at the privacy policy. They don't even pay lipservice to privacy, explicitly saying that they will combine whatever information they get from you with information from third parties and also share your information with third parties. I wouldn't use this without a VPN.

i agree (-1, Offtopic)

rajiv singh (2794205) | about 2 years ago | (#42270317)

i agree with you! Escort service in Delhi [escortsser...ndelhi.com]

Not a world first (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270327)

We have it here in Israel and it seems to work pretty well. http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview.asp?did=1000768403&fid=1725

Fon.com (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270351)

Fon.com does this in Europe for years and years now, and they do it in style.

Open Wi-Fi in The Netherlands (5, Interesting)

sciencewatcher (1699186) | about 2 years ago | (#42270537)

In the city of Groningen, The Netherlands, population 180,000, the cable company has converted the wireless routers of most of the subscribers into dual private and open Wi-Fi access points. Almost all subscribers agreed to participate. In return the subscribers can use each others access points using their own username and password. As you walk or cycle down the street the connection stays permanent as you move from one access point to the next. Both the cable company and the wireless phone operators are in fierce competition with asymmetrical infrastructure. This move by the cable company seems to be designed to undercut the need for 3G/4G access for tablets and smartphones. There are plans to roll out this new type of usage throughout the country.

Re:Open Wi-Fi in The Netherlands (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270631)

It's not open. You have to be a (paying) subscriber...

Re:Open Wi-Fi in The Netherlands (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 2 years ago | (#42270845)

Free and open are two different things.

Re:Open Wi-Fi in The Netherlands (3, Insightful)

sciencewatcher (1699186) | about 2 years ago | (#42271267)

Absolutely, it is just an attempt by the cable company to keep it's customers from going to the competition for commercial reasons. The cable company does not have a cellular phone network and in this way tries to add functionality to compensate for that. It might become an interesting development.

Re:Open Wi-Fi in The Netherlands (1)

shentino (1139071) | about 2 years ago | (#42286757)

So what?

Competition is good even if it doesn't take away customers. If all it provides is pressure to clean up their act, as a customer I still win.

Re:Open Wi-Fi in The Netherlands (1)

johu (55313) | about 2 years ago | (#42276809)

I assume provider you described is Ziggo? There's technical description of their solution on http://www.technischweekblad.nl/hotspot-groningen.297341.lynkx [technischweekblad.nl] . Google translate turns it to good enough English.

Ziggo tunnels visitor traffic so customer that hosts access point don't need to worry about cops knocking on door due someone else abusing connection. It's same way Finnish provider "Wippies" did years ago before closing down. This is also right way to solve this problem and also fixes at least routing and session persistence issues with roaming between access points. Other roaming issues such as client sticking to distant AP may still be present if there's no AP-to-AP RF management features like those in Aruba, Cisco etc. enterprise wireless (controller based) solutions.

Google should do fiber, public wifi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42270793)

I doubt this Freedompop will accomplish much

The general public does not need more than a few megabits/second. Google should blanket Kansas City in wifi, along with its fiber optic network. Specifically, as a Kansas City only VLAN, it should fully use the 5 ghz space of 802.11n, and access to it should be free. Access to the internet should require payment. The general public doesn't know what is possible with wifi networks.

It's standard practice in France and elsewhere (3, Informative)

Kergan (780543) | about 2 years ago | (#42270807)

FWIW, all four major carriers offer this in France:

http://www.ariase.com/fr/guides/hotspots-wifi.html [ariase.com] (url is in French)

Basically, users from your carrier get to use your Wifi, and in return you get to use their own Wifi routers across the country.

France is not alone, either. For carriers, it's a cheap way to roll-out a nationwide Wifi network, with the added benefit that they can then redirect mobile data traffic to land pipes, resulting in less encumbered wireless networks.

fon (1)

magloca (1404473) | about 2 years ago | (#42270919)

sorry, how is this different from fon?

Re:fon (3, Informative)

sco08y (615665) | about 2 years ago | (#42270963)

FTFA:

Stokols believes this service will disrupt others such as FON, another free Wi-Fi startup. That’s because FON cuts deals with large telecommunications providers such as BT, while FreedomPop doesn’t need to. FON users do not share the majority of their access, because they are home users where others in residential areas do not need access as much, he says.

Re:fon (1)

magloca (1404473) | about 2 years ago | (#42312641)

Ah, okay, missed that bit. Thanks.

new wireless carrier next? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42271043)

The thought is great, not sure if it can work though. But what we really need here in the US are more affordable wireless phone providers.

Clearwire = No Go (4, Interesting)

rsmith-mac (639075) | about 2 years ago | (#42271109)

Unfortunately FreedomPop is building their service on top of Clearwire's WiMax service, which doesn't bode well for the performance or the reliability of the resulting service.

Clearwire ceased their buildout more than a year ago, and assuming they survive the next few years will be trying to roll out an LTE network on their spectrum. In the meantime their WiMax network is already oversubscribed both on a per-tower basis and a backhaul basis; as a result the actual speed of the service isn't much better than CDMA 3G, never mind HSPA+ or LTE. Adding a bunch of users is only going to make this worse, especially since FreedomPop isn't the only service taking advantage of Clearwire's cutthroat rates.

Clearwire's 2.6GHz spectrum may also be a minor concern here. Based on the results of Clearwire's own efforts, their spectrum works well for mobile use but has a lot of trouble penetrating homes, which is where a service like FreedomPop is most likely to be used.

Ultimately like any other wireless service this is going to be entirely area-dependent. But for most users they're effectively buying into a cheap 3G-ish service with no quality of service standards. It's cheap, but that's about all FreedomPop has going for it.

Re:Clearwire = No Go (3, Funny)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 2 years ago | (#42271531)

When I lived in Portland, I tried ClearWire because the price was awesome, and my DSL sucked the big one. The only place I could get reception was if I held the modem above my head in the back yard, with it plugged into a 30' extension cord. And that was in one of their most built out markets.

Yeah, I sent it back.

All Is Well (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42271731)

Sprint is about to purchase Clearwire, so everything will turn up roses. Just like it did when the bought Nextel.

Re:All Is Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42272453)

Sprint is about to purchase Clearwire, so everything will turn up roses. Just like it did when the bought Nextel.

When the what bought Nextel?

Keep the "free" levels in persepctive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42272267)

I have a FreedomPop hotspot, and it works well enough when I'm in an area that takes it. But I only get 500MB free every month. I have to re-RTFA but I believe you get 2GB on the home network box. Basically a Netflix movie or two and some browsing and you're done.

I got the hotspot basically so the family will have some connectivity to their tablets when we're on the road somewhere. It doesn't work in my house but it works at the office.

See also: yourkarma.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42274789)

Same idea, different company ...

Hidden Charges Everywhere (1)

WankerWeasel (875277) | about 2 years ago | (#42278161)

Watch out, they're full of hidden charges on their "free" 500MB/mon 4G service. If you don't use at least 10MB/mon, they charge you a fee. Data is rounded when it's used so it keeps rounding up. If you go over 400MB and don't have at least $10 in your account with them, they charge you so you have money in your account. Basically you have to use at least 10MB but less than 400MB a month to keep things free and with the data rounding that becomes very hard. Additionally, while they say they refund the price of the device deposit when you return it, you are charged an additional $10 restocking fee. Checkout the huge thread on slickdeals with lots of people upset about their service and all the hidden charges. I was about to pull the trigger on one but luckily read the info on all their charges and decided otherwise.
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