'Free wireless for customers': brilliant hook

I've had a few dismal moments this week in attempting to access wireless Internet while out and about. Frustration. Wasted time. Money, which, of course, I'll charge to the company. I've also had a few small triumphs.

I beat two corporate giants: Starbucks and T Mobile. Kind of. Long enough to check my e-mail.

For the last week, I've carried the office Mac around town looking for places to access the Internet. My greatest joy was when I picked up an Internet signal for free in the parking lot in front of Starbucks in north Douglas County. In case you've never been confronted with this, the coffee chain, and Borders bookstore next door, charges for Internet use. For the price of a venti mocha and a small pastry, you can spend an hour surfing the Web using T Mobile wireless Internet. For all those who are frequent visitors to either of these two spots, there are daily and monthly plans that cost as much as the normal home Internet access ($40-$50).

I am an advocate of a free wireless world for consumers. I'm your customer, please buy my affection, and you can do that with free wireless. I'll buy coffee for that. A local IT professor (see the front page story) assured me that these hotspots that charge for access will soon change their ways. To be competitive, they'll have to. Or, if not, they'll just be made unnecessary by companies who provide wireless over entire areas, such as Clearwire.

While working the Directions 2007 conference at the Reno Sparks Convention Center I was charged $6 an hour (it's $25 per day) for Internet access. I wasted so much time trying to log on that it was a relief finally when I was charged.

The general idea with Clearwire is that you can have your Internet at home, pack up your laptop and go to your favorite coffee shop and have it there too, as long as you're within the coverage range. Clearwire covers most of Carson City, excluding the West side.

Many business professionals will not stay at a hotel that doesn't provide free wireless. Free is probably relative. The cost is absorbed into your overall bill, but nonetheless, it feels free because you don't get some surprise bill when you go to check out. Competition changed a market standard.

Most hotels in Carson City provide Internet use to their guests, including Holiday Inn Express, Quality Inn, Bliss Mansion and Bliss Bungalow.

The Hardman House started offering high-speed wireless about two years ago. The Hampton Inn & Suites offers an ethernet cable and wireless in guest rooms and its public areas.

"We chose to offer it both ways in the guest rooms because some companies and government agencies prohibit their employees from using the wireless connection due to security concerns," says Dave Friedrich, owner of the Hampton.

I thought it was a little strange, but B'Sghetti's restaurant in downtown Carson City also has free wireless.

"It is not as strange as you may think," says owner Scott Doerr in an e-mail. "It is no different than a guest who reads the newspaper or a novel while they eat."

The business people who dine alone at the Italian restaurant chose to interact with their computer. A little wine, a little pasta and some international news.

"I think that it is not only commonplace these days, it may soon be expected to have Internet service available to your guests."

When that time comes - I will no longer have to sit in parking lots.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.


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