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Internet on the road: good where cheap


' By Scott Bradner


Network World , 10/23/2007


A trip I took last week to New Mexico for a conference and a few days of driving-around vacation reinforced my assumptions about the craziness of the Wi-Fi business these days: The fancier the hotel, the more expensive and the poorer the quality of the Internet service is.


I stayed at three different hotels during this trip — a Hyatt Regency, a Comfort Inn and a Courtyard by Marriott — and I flew through three airports. By far the highest-speed and easiest-to-use Internet service was found in the Comfort Inn. All I had to do was to select the access-point Service Set Identifier and go. No agreements to click through or forms to fill out. The service was “free” — that is, included in the very cheap rate for the Spartan but fully adequate room.


Internet service at the Albuquerque airport was almost as easy — also “free” but requiring a click-through agreement to be a good Internet user.


The cost of the Internet service at the Courtyard by Marriott also was built into the quite cheap room rate. The service was not quite as easy to use as that at the Comfort Inn or the Albuquerque airport. It was wired rather than wireless, but they provided the cable, so that was not a problem. But they wanted me to give them my name and e-mail address, as well as to agree not to abuse the service.


Denver’s airport had fee-based wireless service through AT&T — the standard sort of thing where I provided credit card information and agreed to their use agreement, and AT&T charged my Amex card $7.95 for 24 hours of use, even though I was going to be there less than two hours.


That leaves the Hyatt Regency. This is not a case of leaving the best until last.


No free Internet service here in spite of a room rate that was more per day than that of the other two hotels combined. The room was far from Spartan, but there were few useful differences between the Hyatt and Courtyard by Marriott rooms other than square feet of floor space — quite a bit of which was taken up by a bed bigger than the kitchen in my first apartment and covered by enough pillows for a baseball team.


The Hyatt offered wireless Internet service from T-Mobile. I had to pick up scratch cards from the hotel check-in desk that were good for a day and which dutifully were put on my bill for the conference-special price of about $5 each (I’ve seen prices as high as $21 in other “good” hotels). As far as I can tell, T-Mobile does not have anyone on staff that understands user interfaces. There were eight to 10 things I had to fill in just to get going, including my name and contact information even though I was using a prepaid card. After all of that, I got an account setup after which I had to log on to the account — why I couldn’t just start using the account, I do not know.


On top of all the steps, Firefox reported that the account name and password were sent unencrypted on the wireless network — not exactly a security feature. The worst feature of the “service” was that there seemed to be no way to extend an account with a new scratch card — there was a button that promised to do that, but all the button did was show me a screen that said what I wanted to do was incompatible with the account I had. Thus, I had to create a new account every day with a different logon name because the one I had used was now in use. In addition, the service was quite a bit slower than at the Comfort Inn.


Why is it that the fancier the hotel, the more they want to ding you for so many things after charging you an exorbitant room rate? Safe to say that I only stay at these places when someone else is paying and I have to because it’s the conference hotel. I’d rather stay in a place that is more on a human scale and l know upfront what it will cost.


Disclaimer: Harvard University rarely stays in hotels, so the above observation is mine alone.


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