Free Wi-Fi is becoming so ubiquitous in coffee shops that there has been an actual backlash by some to offer “Wi-Fi Free Zones” so that you don’t have worry about every table being dominated by people with laptops and iPads. Despite some rebelling against the trend, just about every business seems to be getting into the game even to the point that Sam’s Club, the wholesale club arm of Walmart, is now going to be offering it this fall.

Could someone then please explain to me then why hotels are still being such sticks in the mud about it?

hotel laptopUSA Today ran a story this week about how the InterContinental hotel chain, which is known for being fairly high-end, is running a test by offering two tiers of Wi-Fi service.  The lower tier is for those who just want to check e-mail, hop on Facebook and any other low bandwidth activity.  The second tier is for those who want to watch YouTube videos, stream movies or television or anything else that may consume a lot of bandwidth.  Not a horrible concept in principle, although I still feel Wi-Fi should be free at all hotels.

No, where this story goes off the rails is that the chain is charging you for both tiers.  The lower tier will cost you $10 a day, and the higher tier will be $15 a day.  Could someone please explain to me why the lower tier even costs?

I remember traveling with my parents a lot in the early 1980′s, and how hotels would put up signs that proudly proclaimed they offered free HBO in every room.  At the time cable was still a bit of a novelty, and HBO was like the Rolls Royce of cable channels, and, yes, we sometimes decided where we would stay based on the access to the movie channel.  In this day and age it is Internet access that people seek out, and while almost every hotel now offers some form of Internet connection, it seems to only be the lower end hotels that offer it for free.

Currently the tiered pricing test is being run only at the InterContinental Times Square in New York, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins in San Francisco and the InterContinental Chicago, and not so surprisingly, the majority of people are opting for the $15 tier.  Why does this not surprise me?  As a general rule, people will always opt for “more power”.  (Darn you Tim Allen for getting that piece of psychology so right and then basing an entire comedy career on it!)

Sadly, this will probably only set the idea of universal free Wi-Fi back for a time at hotels, but you have to wonder if they have paid no attention to what is going on with technology these days.  MiFis, Overdrives, Droids, there is now a plethora of ways for a person to create their own Wi-Fi on the go.  Sure it isn’t as fast as a normal Wi-Fi connection in most instances, but wouldn’t you rather use something you are already paying for as opposed to paying again?

Hopefully hotels will catch on some day that the Internet should be free to paying guests, but until then, enjoy paying $15 to watch that video of a kid falling off a skateboard on YouTube.

What say you?  Should hotel Internet access be free?