Public Wireless Access Cost Gripe

June 11, 2006

Today at Borders I was sitting in the cafe working.  Every few minutes, I kept getting a pop up telling me that I was connected to t-Mobile wireless, but of course, without paying the fee for the service, I wasn’t going anywhere even though I was connected.  Instead, and just because I could, I was periodically connecting my laptop to the net via my Verizon phone.

I happened to mention to the guy at the table next to me how nice it would be if Borders offered free wireless.  The guy readily agreed and soon we were off on a tangent together about those places that charge for wireless access, like Starbucks, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.  It’s just outrageous to let some outfit like t-Mobile, for example, charge $15 a day for access at a book or coffee shop.  This guy had a list he’s compiled of local places which offer free wireless, but he didn’t have one that I knew about, Panera Bread. 

Panera Bread offers free wireless.  Why can’t the rest of them?  It makes sense for a business to offer a low cost but value added service to their customers if that business wants people to return again and again.  And if people spend some time there, chances are they’ll buy extra goods from you, whether it be coffee, drinks, sandwiches, or books and CDs. 

I read an article a year or so ago about how Starbucks may very well lose business to those coffee shops, like Panera, who offer free wireless.  One can almost assume that Starbucks doesn’t care.  With the price gouge included in a Grande White Chocolate Mocha, for example — it’s just some flavored syrup, milk, whipped cream and two shots of espresso —they’re making money hand over fist.  And maybe the bookstores don’t really want someone sitting in the cafe all day using free wireless either.  But it’s something which brings people back into the store and just seems to be a nice thing to do for your customers.

Wireless doesn’t cost that much, folks.  How many people do you think are really paying $7 an hour or 15 bucks a day to use your internet service?  Get real. 

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