Friday, January 06, 2006


For Christmas, I received a Dell Axim Pocket PC so that I can keep up with my writing a little better. It’s great - I can write in it when I’m out, I can record in it when I’m driving, and I can transfer the files later. It has WIFI access, so I've been testing it out at different places. The McDonald's in Killen, AL was the first place I was able to log on (even out in my car). Twice this week in Huntsville I've gone to lunch and gotten on the internet. Earlier in the week, I went to Aromas (a coffee shop in the new Target shopping center) and then today at Atlanta Bread Company, with very different experiences.

At Aromas they required a "network key" (kind of like a password - it's used to ensure that someone next door or across the street isn't accessing your network) - it was on my receipt when I bought my coffee. I logged on and everything seemed to work fine (except for the fact that I wasn't able to log in to Blogger - the "Start" button didn't seem to work on it). I little later I noticed a note on all the tables requesting donations for using WIFI (comparable to how much you used it) so that they can keep it free.

I'm not sure why this bothered me so much. Probably because I used my last $2 to buy the coffee, so I didn't have any more to give, and I felt guilty. But then, a couple of other logical issues seemed to crop up in my mind (maybe they're justifications):
  1. If they're asking for donations for use of a service, who's going to give? The more generous (or guilty-feeling) people. So in effect, the stingy folks will have a free service, and the giving folks will be paying for it. Should the stingy people be rewarded for being stingy?
  2. It doesn't compute that they seem to be asking, "Please keep this service free by paying for it."
  3. Finally, the only reason I patronized their store was because of the free WIFI. I probably would have gone to another coffee house, but the WIFI got me in the door. If that's one of their reasons for having the "free" WIFI service, then not only are they using a "free" service to get you in the store and purchase their product, but they also want you to pay for the free service that got you in their store to spend money on their products in the first place.

Then I tried Atlanta Bread Company. Apparently, not all WIFI hotspots are created equal. There, they didn't require a network key. Theoretically, you could sit down, not buy anything and just get on the internet (for the record, I got some coffee and a pumpkin muffin top). Also, I didn't see any requests for donations of any form. Unfortunately, the connection was so slow, I thought I was back on dial up so I spent most of the time writing this blog in Word. I looked around and there were only a couple of of other guys working on laptops…I wondered if they could be eating up the bandwidth, but that didn’t seem likely. I couldn't even do a Google search in under a minute.

So, do I support the small business man and throw in my dollar every now and then to assuage my guilt? (But how much is a comparable amount for how much you use? Like the Huntsville airport where it's free? I doubt it. In the Atlanta airport, it's about $10 for a day pass - how does that translate to an hour?)

If I do support the local businessman, is it because I'm doing the right thing or just because the internet screams?

Ah, the dilemmas of the 21st Century.

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