Always connected

By June 12, 2007

Whether for free or for a fee, Wi-Fi is becoming more pervasive. In hotel rooms and campgrounds, airport waiting rooms and city buses, computer users can connect to the Internet at will. In the Bay Area, Internet users just got

some good news from AC Transit. On 78 buses crisscrossing the area, laptops should become a common sight. AC Transit hopes to attract new riders who want to be productive during their commute. The $340,000 grant from the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency covers two years of access fees. After that, the fares from new riders should continue paying for access. Train commuters on the Caltrain line from Gilroy to San Francisco and on the Capitol Corridor from Auburn to San Jose have already been able to connect wirelessly through experiments that have been going on for years. Google employees can also work on the bus ride to campus. The 32 company buses cover 230 miles of freeways from Concord to Santa Cruz and offer wireless Internet access to employees who say the bus improves their quality of life and makes them feel better about leaving their car at home. Many coffeehouses advertise free Wi-Fi as a way to attract clients who are as addicted to their Internet connexion as they are to their morning cup of coffee. Starbucks has chosen the fee-based route with a $10 a day connexion over T-Mobile. Regardless, it is possible to do business from a coffee shop about anywhere in the country. Hotels quickly discovered that business and pleasure guests alike put an Internet connexion on the top of their wish list. Most hotels now offer some kind of solution, whether free or not. But according to HotelChatter, the situation reached an impasse in 2007. “Instead of finding more and more hotels offering free Wi-Fi, we are finding more restrictions are being added to free hotel Wi-Fi. For instance, you can get free Wi-Fi in the lobby, but in-rooms it’s Ethernet and it starts at $9.95. Or you can get free Wi-Fi in your rooms but you need to belong to a hotel’s loyalty program or be assigned a code with a special password,” wrote HotelChatter in its annual look at hotels with the best and worst Wi-Fi. City connexions As far as wiring a whole city, compliments go to Google. Again. Since August of last year, the Mountain View company has provided free Internet access to city dwellers and visitors. “The U.S are behind in terms of access options and speed. We want to show entrepreneurs that it is technically possible and not very expensive to build such a network,” Chris Sacca, head of special initiatives at Google, told me at the time. He explained that some Internet providers were suing cities trying to offer an alternative network for unfair competition and that he hoped Mountain View’s very public example would discourage this practice. In San Francisco, plans to provide both free Internet wireless access and a more sophisticated paying system are being delayed by long city procedures. But promoters swear the service is coming soon. Other cities including Philadelphia and Portland are getting used to laptops popping up on city parks and benches. Do you Fon? European start-up Fon is coming to the US. “Foneros”, as its customers are called, use a special router that lets them turn their private connexion into a Wi-Fi hotspot available to other “foneros” for free. In exchange, they can hop on someone else’s connexion when they travel the world. In the U.S., Fon just signed a deal with Time Warner Cable. Even people who are not Fon customers can access the Internet for few dollars, less than the $10 charged by Starbucks and T-Mobile. Roaming computer users should add this site to their favorites. Unless, they prefer this one which lets them find a Wi-Fi hotspot near them. On a personal note, I should mention that I wrote and sent this article from my public library whose wireless network has become a lifesaver whenever my Comcast connexion is on the lame. What would I do without free public wireless connexion? Isabelle Boucq for Atelier   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at

Legal mentions © L’Atelier BNP Paribas