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Making a beeline to being a telecom provider

Montreal start-up makes it possible, for $40 a month, to become a broadband provider--and a giant VoIP phone booth.

Canadian start-up BeeTelecom, whose software lets anyone become a small-scale Internet provider, says it's close to letting people create their own miniature phone networks as well.

BeeTelecom's unique software, introduced a few months ago, lets someone resell high-speed Internet service using Wi-Fi routers, which are commonly used to wirelessly dispense high-speed Internet inside millions of homes, offices, retail outlets, public areas and transportation hubs.

"We're moving fast" to start supporting voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a way of making phone calls over the Internet, BeeTelecom's Web site claims. This way, commercial Wi-Fi networks, also known as "hot spots," could serve as a kind of giant pay telephone booth, the company says.

Its soon-to-be potent mix of Wi-Fi, VoIP and open-source software that works on just about any Wi-Fi router "help(s) break the monopoly of regulated data and voice communications," a company spokesman said.

While some entrepreneurs will probably use the BeeTelecom software to turn their homes into commercial hot spots, BeeLine's founders believe the initial market will predominantly be businesses run out of homes, or small companies looking for any competitive advantage they can get.

BeeTelecom is another example of the changing face of the telephone industry. A decade ago, nearly every phone call at one point use the expensive, privately owned and heavily taxed and regulated local phone network. But VoIP technology allows the same calls to use the Internet--a haven from taxes and regulations--which makes them much cheaper.

Traditional telephone operators first used VoIP to cut down on their own costs. Two years ago, commercial services such as Vonage helped seed the market for using a broadband connection to make and receive calls from any phone number. By year's end, a million U.S. homes will be using broadband to make phone calls, and 10 million by 2008, several analysts have predicted.