Dear Hotels: Quit Being A-holes

Bob Frankston says connectivity will eventually become "ambient"—something we just assume, much as we assume electricity, water, sewage treatment and other infrastructural conveniences. None of those conveniences are free of cost, of course, and we pay for them one way or another. As utilities, it is normal for those paying for them to share reasonable use of them for free with others. Thus, we assume that, for example, a restroom in a hotel or gas station has a sink with running water, a light that goes on and a toilet that flushes. In less-developed parts of the world, or away from those conveniences, we make do with less, or on our own. But civilization requires that certain conveniences are available as a matter of course and are offered by those who pay for them directly as a simple grace to others.

This is not yet the case with Internet connectivity, especially in the hospitality industry.

I am facing this fact at the Novotel Lakeside, an otherwise fine hotel in Queenstown, New Zealand. Here my Internet connection is so sphinctered that all I can do is contemplate the problem at hand rather than the original subject of this month's column. I cannot continue writing about that subject because to do so would require that I use the Internet in a fully interactive way. What I have instead is a connection that has suddenly slowed to a tortuous crawl. This happened after the hotel cut me off and then offered to let me proceed at a slow pace or pay $.10/MB (or about $100/GB) for the full-speed connection I thought I would have for the 7GB that already cost me $115 at the start of my stay.

By that deal, I had seven days to use the 7GB, and up to four devices I could connect in my room, over Wi-Fi. I thought it was worth paying for, even though we were staying only for three days, and it was unlikely that we'd use 7GB of data. It also was the most expensive deal offered, so I thought it would cover the most use, with the most convenience. Instead, it was less a bait-and-switch than a bait-and-whack.

To get a sense of my frustration at the moment, consider what I am looking at right now on my screen (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Screenshot of Doc's Time and Data Remaining

The problem with his message is that 6,995.0MB is not what's remaining. That's how much I might now pay $.10/MB for, or $699.50 if I eat through the whole thing.

So, in my frustration and confusion, I just went down to the front desk, where they printed out a more readable form of this (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Screenshot from Doc's Hotel

(Note: I copied the screenshot shown in Figure 2 and inserted it later, when I had a better connection.)

Never mind the insanity of torturing customers with this strange mix of conditionalities. The market will fix that stuff eventually. (And I'll do my part with this column.) Think instead of negative vs. positive economic externalities.

On the negative side is the unlikelihood that I will ever stay in this hotel again—or in any other Accor Hotel, all of which, I gather, have the same aversive Internet offering. Also on the negative side, for the likes of Accor, is my preference these days to stay in AirBnB homes, for the simple reason that all of the ones I consider have good Internet connections, and none of them see their Internet connection as the digital equivalent of a pay toilet.

On the positive side, think about how Linux—and everything developed by geographically separated creators over the Internet—requires easily available and low-cost connections—and which then in turn produce even more products and services with positive economic externalities.

The main problem is that we're dealing with a new and awful norm here: metering the Internet as if it were an old-fashioned phone service.

Although not verbatim, both the hotel and the help desk on the phone told me "all the hotels work this way". It could be that that's true in New Zealand, although I doubt it. In the US and Europe, the expensive hotels are the ones with inconvenient connectivity deals (although I've seen none with data caps or metered usage). It's the cheap hotels that offer free Internet, just like they offer free electricity, heat, air conditioning and running water.

In the wired parts of the Internet, where we connect by Ethernet through fiber, cable TV or phone lines, we tend not to sense prices for sums of data, even if there are "caps" involved. Comcast, for example, has "flexible" terms surrounding its 250GB/month data caps. But in the wireless parts of the Net connected over 3G and 4G/LTE connections, the "caps" are very present and constantly threatening. They are also much lower than we see with wired, and with costs that are much higher. (See, for example, AT&T's and Verizon's plans.)

If we follow the model set by expensive hotels and mobile phone companies, the Net will turn into a complicated "service" on the model of phone and cable systems, rather than the much simpler model of pure utilities with boundless positive economic and social externalities, such as we have with electricity, water and sewage treatment. This is a huge fork in the road of the Net's future.

Back when he was Chief Scientist at BT, JP Rangaswami said the core competence of phone companies was not communications, but billing. As a group they are very successful at that. The result is what Scott Adams calls a "confusopoly": "a group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price". Confusopolies are very complicated shell games in which no customer can intuit, much less find, a first cost. Nor can they find any source of simplicity behind the baffling choices they face in what amounts to a captive marketplace. With real utilities, that first cost can be sensed. We can see in our minds the rivers, dams, lakes, power plants, distribution wires and sewage treatment facilities required. Those things may be complicated, but what they yield is simple, and we appreciate that simplicity and its pure usefulness.

The Internet should be the same way. But it won't get there as long as its plumbing providers care more about making billing complicated than making service simple.

And maybe, after we get that down, we can work on making it ambient as well.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Please check some real information about vpn service

vpn's picture

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vpn problem

blackks's picture

One general problem is that the DNS is typically spoofed so you may need to get the IP address of the port. On my first trip I connected directly to the router in my house which had VPN support but I now use a third party services. There a number of them and, for those still AOL accounts, a VPN is one benefit.


artistu1991's picture

same problem here jocuri cu fotbal

Accor Hotels

BobToronto's picture

I guess the Accor hotel chain treats internet users no better than they treat their staff.


zb's picture

In Brazil it is much the same. The cheaper pousadas always have free wifi and the more expensive chains charge a lot. Accor have a lot of properties here and I refuse to use them. I make a point of calling, asking for a reservation, ask them to confirm free wifi and then say that in that case I will look around for a better deal.

You said 'Dear Hotels: Quit Being A-holes'. I would rephrase that and say 'Dear guests: Quit Being A-holes' Consumers must refuse to do business on unfavourable terms and tell suppliers exactly why they have lost your custom.

i know what you mean

mx727's picture


I stay at hotels regularly and believe me for someone who has to be always connected it is very difficult. Sometimes you just pay lots of money for a very bad connection.

By the way, Accor is a French group... From Wikipedia:

"Accor S.A. is a French hotel group, part of the CAC 40 index, which operates in over 91 countries.

Headquartered in Paris, France, the group owns, operates and franchises 4,200 hotels on five continents representing several diverse brands, from budget and economy lodgings to luxurious accommodations in exotic locales."

Google Review?

Randy Noseworthy's picture

Doc. I didn't see a Google Review mentioning the Internet Connectivity issue on their Google Page / Google Reviews.

That might be another good place to post your thoughts about the way that they treat internet users. And it would put in the front of the eyes of prospective customers, something a bit more visible than a magazine article. :)

Great article, and as I read

Adrian R.'s picture

Great article, and as I read it, it reminded me about some hotels in my country. I live in Mexico and due to job reasons I get to travel quite regularly within the country, and as Doc says, the tendency I have perceived is that the more luxurious the hotel they tend to charge Internet access and quite expensive as well!

the market does not fix anything, you do

mitcoes's picture

Buy a prepaid phone SIM local card for Internet - if it is cheaper -

Friedman marriage wrote that contamination in rivers should be fixed by the market, A LIE that when I studied it in the late 80s made me laugh.

You also must ask your travel agency for FREE INTERNET Hotels or CHEAP internet ones as you would calculate the price making the addition or for prepaid phone internet options.

Perhaps you will be the first - I doubt so - but this would make the travel agency to search this field at the database and next time prepare you the offer with this option and data miners will see people rejecting hotels for this and visiting other even a little worse because of this.

Then the travel agency, not the market, one day will ask for an offer with internet included if this hotel wants ONE customer or a line of customers that reject that hotel. And ...

>> The market will fix that

Colin J McDermott's picture

>> The market will fix that stuff eventually.

Sorry, allot of IT people believe* this nonsense. It's not true.

There is possibly NO market for internet connection in the Accor hotel you stayed at. That's a Monopoly.

Competition and differing competition leads to a hotel offering free and good internet and attracting customers away. It is weather that competition appears in the market or if there is collusion to keep a high fee in place. This is a good example of collusion, another one is 25c txt messages that cost the network 1/2c (yes after 15 years their price has lowered, a little).

My point, the market is our trading environment. Economics believe* that this environment left free and wild will give us the best deal. This is not the case.

*By Belief, I am not talking about scientific proofs like Gravity being an acceleration of 9.8m/s. I am talking about the kind of Belief Scientology and Taro card readers have.

Well then substitute History

Doc Searls's picture

If I had said "History will fix that," I would have meant the same thing. The bad practices I visit in this piece have big overhead of several different kinds that will in the long run argue convincingly against them. No competition required.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

making a-hole less ambiguous

Anonymous's picture

You, my friend are on the right track. If I used hotels like you do I would now know what to avoid. But what I want and need is different than what you want and need; they aren't going to get any business from me no matter what they do or don't do. I'll bet there is someone out there that is just as convinced that all hotels must provide running Aloe-Vera gel without any artificial coloring. Why shouldn't their needs be given the same weight as mine or yours? Because we disagree that this is an important issue? What makes one an a-hole is not clear- especially to the a-holes themselves.

The best we can do is to make sure the hotels know (maybe like a previous poster said- via a travel agent) which services we NEED and a lack there-of will make us turn to another hotel or an alternative solution (family or a friend to stay with). If they get the idea that X is as important as running hot water to most but Y is more than a convenience to many then many hotels will give priority to providing a good X over giving a mediocre Y.

A business is only a monopoly if there is NO chance of competition allowed. Nothing becomes a monopoly simply because it succeeds where others fail, but because all competition is disallowed by external forces.

fitting parts in wholes

Doc Searls's picture

In fact it is because every customer is different that ProjectVRM — my current main mission in life — is aimed toward making customers both independent and better able to engage with the vendors of the world (including hotels). So we're in agreement there.

I might be wrong in assuming that every hotel will provide free Internet connectivity for the same reason they provide free hot and cold water, electric power and a working toilet. But I think at the very least that's a better bet than people demanding colorless aloe-vera.

The message should be pretty clear by now, to most hotels, that most guests want and need fully working Internet connections. The problem is on the supply side upstream, and lack of competence around service provision on site. If the electricity, water, heating or sewage system fails, there are local people the hotel can call for help. Or there are people on staff. Not the case yet with Internet service. Instead there are stand-alone businesses that sell Internet services to hotels, and in most cases, I suspect, there is more competence around billing than around making the Internet actually work.

But that model is fundamentally broken, I believe. And it will change.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

nz problem

Anonymous's picture

"down under" is a term used to describe Australia, New Zealand isnt part of Australia, they are their own nation state full of "kiwis". That said, the situation in Australia is little different.


Doc Searls's picture

I sit corrected.

A side note.... During the meetings I attended in Queenstown, one of the locals talked about her "pits." I kept trying to figure out what she meant until it dawned on me that she meant pets. So, I have much to learn. :-)

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Progress in Asia

Bob Frankston's picture

In April, traveling through Chinas (both) I found hotels that had open connectivity with no sign-on or other requirements. That's an important trend.

While most places I was able to get past thin sign-in and agree screens with no charges. While those intermediate screens are a problem for “just works” connectivity they do demonstrate that there is ample capacity.

What was nice also is that my T-Mobile Wi-Fi call worked quite well once I was connected so I didn't bother getting a SIM card for much of the trip.

As you note the fancier the hotel are more of a problem (outside China) because they can gouge rich executives while the working-stiffs just won’t stay at a hotel that interferes with getting work done.

Do be careful about the analogies – the carriers are not like plumbers who do their work and let you use your own water. They are pretending to be Sommeliers who insist on pouring the swill for you just so they can charge you for each precious drop.

What about censorship?

Doc Searls's picture

Bob, just wondering about censorship of the Net while you were in China. I understand that YouTube, Facebook and Flickr are all blocked, along with thousands of other sites and certain search terms. I've never been, so I haven't had the experience. I also understand there are work-arounds, and I'd want to know them before going there. Did you try any of those workarounds? Or were any of the hotels outside the scope of the blockages?

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

VPN from China

Bob Frankston's picture

I use a VPN whenever I need to get past such restrictions. One general problem is that the DNS is typically spoofed so you may need to get the IP address of the port. On my first trip I connected directly to the router in my house which had VPN support but I now use a third party services. There a number of them and, for those still AOL accounts, a VPN is one benefit.

T-mobile's Wi-Fi calling seemed to work fine going straight through.

I did encrypt my hard drive just in case.


Doc Searls's picture

Thanks for raising that issue. I had never heard of Accor before, and I assumed from its literature that Accor was a New Zealand chain. When I look at this list of Accor Hotels properties, Accor brand hotels are not listed. When I look up Accor Hotels New Zealand, I get to this page, which does show the other affiliated properties.

Obviously, they do need to get the problem sorted out.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

I think this must be a NZ

Anonymous's picture

I think this must be a NZ problem. I regularly stay at Accor hotels in Europe all of which provide free unlimited internet for rhe duration of your stay. The people 'down under' need to get this sorted out.

Accor hotels

Doc Searls's picture

I didn't know until now that Accor hotels exist outside of New Zealand. Mostly Accor disappears behind more familiar brand names such as Sofitel, Ibis and Novotel. In fact Accor doesn't mention its own name as a brand of hotel at (Which for me defaults to, where it says "Booking a hotel has never been easier. Welcome to, Europe's largest hotel group.") In the pull-down menu under "Hotels," Accor is not among the names. When I do a map search on the website, locations fail to load. (I just get a spinning wheel.) I can, however, search via Google (it's their map) in a location bar. When I do that, it comes up with 25 hotels on the North Island and 13 on the South Island. When I click on Queenstown, I find four: a Mercure, a St. Moritz, a Sofitel and a Novotel (where I stayed). When I look up Accor Hotels New Zealand on a search engine, I get to this subdirectory, which directs visitors to locations, but not to brand names. When I was there I also heard from guests of the other Accor hotels that Internet service was sphinctered the same way.

I also heard this back from Accor, in response to comments I made at the hotel:

Dear Mr Searls,

We hope you enjoyed your travels to New Zealand in June. We have read your feedback below and it was disappointing to hear the comments below. I understand that the Internet speed was brought to our attention and that $57.50 of the Internet bill, a 50% discount, was deducted as a gesture of good will.

We try to have different Internet options available to our guests when they stay with us as we do provide free wireless Internet in the lobby for 8 megabytes a day and free usage on our 2 Mac terminals in the lobby. This is in addition to the 2 hour, 24 hour, and 7 day plans Wifi packages available in the room. We are looking at ways of improving the services that we offer thru a 3rd party distributor, while also covering the costs of investment in this area which are considerable in New Zealand. We are in the process of trying to extend the availability of Mac terminals. These stations have been incredibly popular and to our knowledge we are the only branded Hotel in New Zealand offering this service. Having said this we do not wish to frustrate our guests and are continually trying to upgrade the services that we offer to meet an ever changing requirement from our guests.

Mr Searls, it was pleasing to hear you found us to be a fine hotel in all other capacities and hope that you enjoyed Queenstown as a destination.

As somebody who likes to work on my own computer in my own room, the appeal of working in the lobby or using terminals there is low. I am, however, interested in knowing more about the "considerable costs" mentioned above. I am sure they exist, but what are they?

At the hotel I was told by an employee that Accor (or perhaps it was just this Novotel, I don't recall exactly) has little choice about its Internet offerings, and that my complaints were really about the hotel's provider and not the hotel itself. I can accept that, if there are no other alternatives available. Might one of these provide Accor with Internet service that guests won't hate? If so, I highly advise Accor to go with the best local option.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal