March 6, 2003

WiFi Wants to be Free

Doc is railing against for-pay WiFi at Starbucks. He’s especially cheesed that he has to pay for a full hour just to use the connection for five minutes. He says:

Earth to Starbucks: Get another provider and give away the wi-fi for free, like milk and sugar. You’re gonna be doing it eventually anyway. Wi-fi is just another utility provided by businesses and municipalities as a civic grace, like toilets and light.

A few people have jumped into the discussion, some for and some against. I’m on the for side myself. A lot of the arguments against cite the cost of installing broadband and bandwidth charges and things like that. And yes, those are factors. But think about public toilets. I’m sure it costs quite a bit to put restrooms in when you’re building a restaurant, and then there’s always the recurring costs, like water, sewer, maintenance, supplies. But yet nearly every resturant in the country has free toilets. Why? People expect it. Free toilets probably started out as a perk, a gimmick that some places used as a competetive advantage. Then everyone started doing it, and now it would be folly not to have them. WiFi in places like coffee shops, where people go to hang out and relax for a while, will probably run the same course. What will most likely happen is that the local coffee houses will start offering it for free, to draw people away from Starbucks. The big chains will slowly start noticing, and for-pay Internet access will be phased out. There’s a pizza place in Reno that offers free WiFi, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s coming.

Of course, all this coming from a person who has never actually used WiFi in a public place – just my house. And the nearest Starbucks to my house isn’t a coffee shop, but one of their roasting plants. I do give out free WiFi at my house, though, so I can speak for that. You don’t even have to buy coffee to use it! But wait – that makes me a terrorist. Oh well, too bad.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog

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