Friday, January 05, 2007


So for the first time in seven years, I’m living in an apartment that lacks internet. I anticipated this situation and probably even welcomed it on some level. I work in an office for a good chunk of most weekdays where I have as much bandwidth and connectivity as I can use. I thought if I didn’t have it at home, I’d save money, I’d be productive (editing and general writing if not blogging-wise) and if I needed it, I could always hunt down an internet café.

At this point, there’s still a lot of free wireless out there. Two things have surprised me:

1) A lot of the best places for free wireless are actually bars. I thought cafés had the monopoly on wireless – the theory being it’s harder to sleepily spill coffee on your computer than drunkenly tip over a glass of wine. Nope. People like to drink and browse. Plus, I actually find the connection in bars faster than cafés. It could be there are less people in bars using computers – meaning less strain on the network. Or it could just be the booze talking.

2) Having to depend on it has demonstrated to me just how many places charge for the use of their internet. Some places have computers and charge for their use. This seems fair. You’re actually downloading all your viruses, signing up for porn and generally mashing all the keys on their machine. But I have a laptop and I can’t stand the idea of paying for the use of wireless in a public place.

My problem with #2 is that wireless costs pretty much nothing. 50 bucks a month gets you the cable modem. 150 bucks for the wireless base station and you’re good to go. 200 bucks seems like a small price to pay for a pretty good way of bringing people into your establishment. But then again, I’m not a business owner so I don’t want to presume to know what’s a fair expense to a new business.

From a consumer’s viewpoint, I can’t believe that people – with laptops – pay to use a Starbucks’s wireless. There’s one on Delancey St., near my internet-free apartment. One night, I was desperate to get online. And like most times when I’m desperate to get online, it’s because I’m downloading or uploading a media file (short video or graphic or music). I only need about ten minutes to pull it off. To get online at Starbucks, I though that it might take a purchase or a small fee. In fact, you have to literally sign up credit-card style for fairly big units of wireless time. You can’t just buy ten minutes worth. You have to do it for a whole day, a week, a month, etc. I unfortunately did not learn this fact until I’d bought a diabetes-inducing hot carmel apple cider – with caramel!

So should no place charge for wireless? I was in Brooklyn this weekend and was looking for a good internet spot. I walked into a new internet café in Williamsburg and asked the guy at the counter if they had free wireless. He said no. Not free. It was five dollars for six hours worth of online activity. I said thanks and started to walk out. He stopped me and asked what I would do in his position. His problem was this: If wireless internet was free in his establishment, people would just sit in the café and not buy anything. I felt like this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. With more places charging for the use of their broadband, I thought that if I could just convince one business owner, the dominoes would soon fall and wireless scrooges would see the error of their way.

The not buying anything is the tough part. The sitting there all day part seems like less of a problem for a new café to have. If there’s one thing that’s a little depressing it’s a new café with empty tables. I mean, you want people to sit there and enjoy themselves. Otherwise, why not just open a coffee-stand? But I guess I feel him on freeloaders like myself just using the internet with nary a purchase in sight. I think the compromise is this: Go ahead and make wireless available with a purchase (even a purchase as small as a coffee). Even though I think this ruins a little bit of the goodwill of totally unlimited connectivity, it ensures that people will have paid something for the service. Plus, I think most people wouldn’t take advantage. Call me an optimist but I think most people wouldn’t sit in front of their computer in a café all day. And if they did – they’ve got to eat something. Then, it’s just up to the café to make the food/drink worth buying.

This was the case I made to the new café owner. One purchase for unlimited wireless. He said sure, one purchase of no less than five dollars. I argued that people buy coffees and sit in cafes for long stretches reading or talking anyway. Get the people into your café first. If there’s massive overcrowding and people are squatting for full days on just one cup of coffee, feel free to change things then. But right now, you could have worse problems than people clamoring to get in and get on your internets!

I realized I was speaking too passionately on the subject. He thanked me for my opinion and dismissed me. I went up the block to the Roebling Tea Room and waited for them to allow computers to be used on the tables (free wireless but not during brunch!)

In closing to this ramble, I urge you not to pay for wireless. Instead, go to some of these fine establishments (if you’re on the lower east side) and use their free connect while enjoying a medium sized beverage purchased on the premises:

Full City Coffee (409 Grand St.)
Lotus Lounge (35 Clinton St.)
Lolita Bar (266 Broome St.)

Editor’s note: This post was finished and posted from the front seat of my car, parked on Broome St., sitting in front of Lolita Bar – within range of their wireless connection.


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