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Internet on the road: more expensive in more expensive places


By: Scott Bradner


A trip I took last week to New Mexico for a conference and a few days of driving-around vacation reinforced my assumptions of the craziness of the WiFi business these days.  My experience on this trip is consistent with and magnified pervious experiences.  The fancier the hotel the more expensive and the poorer quality the Internet service turns out to be.


I stayed at 3 different hotels during this trip -- a Hyatt Regency, a Comfort Inn and a Courtyard by Marriott -- and I flew though 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 SSID and go.  No agreements to click through or forms to fill out.  The service was "free" -- i.e. included in the very cheap room rate.  The room was spartan but fully adequate.


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


Denver 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 by Amex Card $7.95 for up to 24 hours of use even though I was only 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 both 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 which was 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 which were good for a day and which were dutifully 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 are 8 to 10 things you have to fill in just to get going including your name and contact info even though I'm using a prepaid card.  After all of that you get an account setup after which you have to login to the account - why you can't just start using the account I do not know.  On top of all the steps, Firefox reports that the account name and password are sent unencrypted on the wireless net - 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 that the button did was to show me a screen that said that 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 logname since the one I had used were 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 up front what it will cost.


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