Let's improve on the pay toilet model for public wi-fi

Public wi-fi in airports and hotels is offered on the pay toilet model. It charges money to use low-cost plumbing facilities. I believe it would be better for airports, and their passengers, if plumbing usage were free, just as it is for water and trains between terminals.

Can we tell them how?

I'm thinking about this while going through the usual insanity of logging on, in this case at the airport in Zürich. Here's a photoset of the login gauntlet I just went through.

Bottom line: I have no idea what I'm paying.

Okay, I need to catch the next flight. More in Paris.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Where is is pay, where is it free?

Phil Hughes's picture

WiFi is free in the Managua and San Salvador airports Both are Claro—owned by Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world. But, at least last time I was there, access was not free in Mexico City which is Slim's home country.

To me, it seems that airports collect fees from airlines and vendors and those fees are huge compared to the cost of WiFi. In fact, I expect the cost could be zero—trading a "free WiFi supplied by ..." sign for the service. It would seem the Starbucks model would work for airports as well. That is, if people are there and happy, they will spend money on other things that you can profit from.

Phil Hughes

failed auth - maybe for you...

y011's picture

1st shot: suuuure it failed. Evil Twin attack anyone? Hot spots lose. We need a model which provides user segregation and auth/encryption ala 802.1x+user-level VLAN segregation but for public, anonymous services. But we don't want to do something stupid like tie it to another source like OpenID, MS Passport, etc. And don't give me using WPAPSK/WEP as, once authed, you're all in the same (un)happy network.

Basically you can sit in an airport and collect iPass, etc auth all day long. People don't notice if you don't redirect them to SSL. Fake certs aren't even necessary. iPass and other global IDs can be used globally (duh).

Now *that's* a stupid model. At least when this was for dialup someone would have to somehow get the PSTN to direct the dialin number to the trojan. With wireless become "T-Mobile Hotspot", etc and voila you're golden.

And with DNS tunneling only chumps pay for public wifi.

In the Netherlands some wifi are free to use

Leon Renkema's picture

In the Netherlands the WIFI in some Hotels (van der valk) is free to use if you are a ADSL customer at XS4all. So XS4ALL is paying for the WIFI infrastructure (for a part, as there are other companies)

For foreign visitors this is not really working but I think it is a good case to start with, maybe in the future use all the WIFI access points when you are ADSL customer...

who should push for free wifi

Martiniano's picture

I think there always is a company that could act as a sponsor to pay for wifi costs, everywhere, if you think about it.

What if wifi is free, but you need to either:

1) subscribe with a valid email, or
2) view an initial web page with promos or ads about the shop where the hotspot is, or
3) whatever promotional stuff they can trow at us, at the expense of having a wifi router and an internet conection for us to use after that?

I woudn't mind the promos.


Internet is overhead

Doc Searls's picture

Internet should be overhead for the hotel. An expense, not a revenue source. Just like water, electricity, garbage pickup and cable TV. Some motels many years ago experimented with coin-operated televisions. They were an awful kluge, and failed.

I would rather pay $110 for a $100 room than pay extra for Internet on the pay-toilet model. And I think this is where it's going to go on the long run anyway.

We also need to pay more attention to quality of service. I'm staying in a Paris hotel right now that's only 55€ per night, and with free wi-fi. But the wi-fi is terrible. It's stays up, but the speeds are sub-dial-up most of the time. I would gladly pay 70€ per night for good Internet at the same hotel.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Paris experimented with free WiFi

Bob Gustafson's picture

Zurich has a nice airport, yes?

Your story reminded me of my payphone calls in Sicily in Dec 2001. Pay
by credit card with no idea of cost. Bill at home showed $5/min !!

Paris experimented with citywide free Internet a few years ago. I think
it was just a temporary test - may not have been really 'citywide'.

You could put up a list of cities with free Internet. Might be something
that other cities would like to be on.

Free WiFi Hotspots in Guernsey

Dave Le Huray's picture

All wifi hotspots in guernsey, channel islands are free. Airport, harbour, pubs, hotels. Lucky aren't we :)

I contacted Zurich Airport

RalphBassfeld's picture

I just emailed Zurich Airport about the importance of monitoring what people are saying about Unique (the company that runs Zurich Airport) online and in the social media space. I also linked to this post.

Wonder if I'll get an answer.