Next time you sit down in a cafe and realize you have a wifi signal, consider why. Wifi service is quickly becoming the air-conditioning of the Internet age, enticing customers into restaurants and other public spaces in the same way that cold “advertising air” deliberately blasted out the open doors of air-conditioned theaters in the early 20th century to help sell tickets, says The New York Times. Starbucks has become one of the main wifi chains with more than 5,100 stores nationwide.
Before you pop open your laptop, however, you need to pull out your credit card. Starbucks and its partner, T-Mobile, charge $6 an hour for the “pay as you go” plan. Day passes or monthly subscriptions are available but can be used only at Starbucks stores and other T-Mobile partners like Borders bookstores.
The trouble is, an increasing number of cafe chains and restaurants like McDonalds, are starting to offer wifi, but always for a price. Are customers really willing to spend hours in a cafe - as in long enough to buy more than one cup of Joe or sweet treat - or does hourly wireless access just push patrons out the door?
According to the Times, in the 1920s, when air-conditioning began to be installed in movie theaters, owners would spend about $50,000 (roughly equivalent to $570,000 today) to transform the property into a “cold spot.” Of course, cold air was harder to come by mid-summer in those days and crowds would gather, eat movie-theater treats and well, everyone was happy.
While wifi isn't as expensive as "cold air," it might be time for owners to consider throwing down free wifi for all. I know I'm more likely to get the chai and scone when I know the geeksugar access is free.