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The Strange Battle Over Free Wi-Fi

by Sean P. Aune | August 14, 2010August 14, 2010 11:00 am PST

It seems that everyone and their brother wants to get into offering free Wi-Fi as of late as an incentive to lure customers into their stores.  You know when a chain such as the Sam’s Club wholesale stores are going to be offering free Wi-Fi that things are definitely swinging in an odd direction.  However, it seems that smaller businesses are now finding that they prefer life without the sound of people clicking in laptop keyboards in their establishments, and some of them are making a move away from offering such a perk.

The Los Angeles Times ran a story this week about how several small coffeehouses in and around San Fransisco, one of the most connected cities in the country, are getting away from offering Internet connections to their customers.  Some people see it as offering an oasis away from our “always-on” society, but there is another reason, and that is simply people are not buying enough goods while they sit in a coffee shop for hours on end, nursing one cup of coffee for hours on end.

wifinYou know, there’s a simple solution to that problem: Set a time limit, if you don’t make another purchase, you’re told your time is up and you are asked to leave.  Restaurants have had policies such as this for years, why should it be any more difficult to  enforce in a coffee shop or some other type of business?

There is obviously something to be said for free Wi-Fi, or else you wouldn’t be seeing companies such as Starbucks, which formerly charged for the service, switching over to a free ad-supported model.  Considering the size of the corporation, don’t you think this was researched to death?  Sam’s Club is adding the service to aid customers during shopping so they can look up reviews and other information on their smartphones more easily as they walk around the store.

“Wi-Fi Free” establishments may serve a small niche type customer, but somehow I just don’t think it will catch on.  The pendulum is very clearly swinging the other direction, and it’s about time it did.

What say you?  Would you choose a Wi-Fi Free business over one that offered you free access to the Internet?

Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...