Should Wi-Fi be Free?

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When Starbucks introduced for-pay Wi-Fi in 2002, it seemed like a great deal. But five years later, the model appears old and stale and ready for a complete overhaul.

According to my friend Mike Elgan at, Starbucks will begin providing their customers with free Wi-Fi within the next year. This is an excellent development. I believe we shouldn’t have to pay for wireless access points, and I bet you don’t, either.

As you know, Wi-Fi is widely available. It’s no longer some new-fangled fad… and paying for it has become rather antiquated. The problem is, free doesn’t always mean secure. Thankfully, there are programs such as Hamachi to keep you safe. Hamachi is a free program that allows you to create your own Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

Any time I am out and about, I rely on to point me towards any hot spots in the area. Simply input your country, state and city, and the site will give you a list of all locations (including addresses and phone numbers) who have Wi-Fi available for you.

iStumbler for Mac OSX is an amazing tool. iStumbler is the leading wireless discovery tool for Mac OS X, providing plug-ins for finding AirPort networks, Bluetooth devices, and Bonjour services with your Mac.

If you want to hear all about my experience being tazered and almost going to jail over Wi-Fi… you’ll just have to watch this video.

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85 thoughts on “Should Wi-Fi be Free?”

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  4. If I am over my aunts house or somehting (they live in a rich neighborhood) i just clikc on the little computer icon in the taskbar on vista and i just get the best non-blocked network!

  5. All of America is being over charged for telecommunications/internet access. Thanks Congress, for passing the Telecommunications Act there is not enough corporate welfare already.

  6. hey there chris, yo heard you r going to change the mac hey if you change it must be a good move your a smart person we belive.I dont have much probs with the vista, me using vista ultimate sp1 p4 2.8g,1g ram,radeon x700. on my sys vista actually works faster for many software, but of course i dont use as many apps like u. the load times in vista is quite fast considering the gui and all the security.I personally think microsoft made vista for a later time this is because of its hardware requirement, but i guess they had to relese it earlier because of OS X. Microsoft did copy osx, but is it possible that such a big company will do this for no reason, i think they copied osx because in the future people(mac user) will say “hey vista is kinda like osx but more stable and more secure”
    i think microsoft is planing to remove apple, but for nw because vista is released much to early and is not as good as it supposed to be.I have tested it, vista is power full but its power is mostly invested for the future.Microsoft better get their prob fixed before osx comes out, or good bye microsoft and all hello apple

  7. Wi-fi really should be free, after getting my PSP I went Wi-fi crazy!
    I found hotels charge a lot for “air”, I couldn’t get a connection because the hotels surrounded by a bunch of other hotels! Anyway, I do see some coffee shops taking a step in the right direction. Second cup (I believe it was) will give you the daily changing wep if you ask for it(although you might have to buy something). Wonder how much a straw costs.

  8. I’m typing this on my completely free wifi connection at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Myrtle Beach, SC, where I’m staying for a week with a couple of our out-of-London clients…

    I think routers should have a QoS setting which allows for you to dedicate a certain amount of bandwidth, unprotected, for passers by to use. That way we all benefit, would be able to check email in more locations (imagine if EVERY wifi network did this!), and it wouldn’t cost the people allowing it at all…

    In the UK, we recently had someone jailed for “stealing” wireless – it’s absurd! I’m of the opinion that if someone left it unprotected then they are obviously happy for people to share it. Interestingly, my “free” 😉 wifi in my house became MAC-address-protected within a couple of days of that storty hitting the press!

    Interesting article about it:

  9. As I write this there is some tool outside sitting in his car getting free wi-fi off of one of my neighbors, I want to go around knocking to find out what dipshit left it open. This guy is stealing.

  10. hey chris

    its “fatal1ty” from the chat room
    ill swing by later

    the taser thing surprised me. like wow thats pretty cool. well, obviously not for you at the time but i’m kinda interested in that kinda stuff. good for you for standing up for your fellow geeks. and for the record, i’m sure if you really hated this guy, and really had flashbacks or post traumatic stress or something like that, summoning to the court might make him change his tune…i dunno dude, i live in Australia and its a common stereotype over here that Americans sue everyone…i didn’t make that up i swear! i love Americans! but u know its just something that it said a lot over here…i mean, some Americans think we have kangaroos hopping around in our backyards…thats not true…i’ve never seen a kangaroo in my life.

    anyway i think i was getting a little off task there.

    i wonder if that guard is watching this right now, now that your famous (and i suppose u were back then but he was too thick to realize) and hes going “omg…what did i do” now that would be funny

    anyway “E” ya later Chris


  11. Nothing is ever free (so said Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman) The only question is, who pays? When you propose “free” wifi, somebody has to pay to set it up, pay for the connection, etc. So, the cost is in the coffee, in the hotel room, or, heaven forbid, in taxes we pay if it is provided by some governmental unit.

    Why should somebody with no interest in internet access at that time have to pay for it in their cup of coffee or hotel room? It is much better if those who want something simply pay for it when they use it. I personally can’t live without artichokes, and think they should be free to everybody. I propose a tax on everybody so the government can provide me and everybody else with free artichokes.

  12. A security guard tazered you?
    Wow, in Canada, a security guard cannot lay a finger on you. That would be assault.

    Starbucks is an evil company. They tried blocking fair working conditions in South American countries.

    I would hit up cafes to have free wireless areas. That way if some customers didn’t like the idea of RF going through them, that area would be far from the router.

  13. Wi-fi internet should be free

    we have Over-the-air terrestrial television analog and digital free.

    couldn’t this same pratice come to Wi-fi, I don’t see why it couldn’t.

  14. Sometimes I’m appalled at people’s attitude nowadays. Yes – everything should be free to ME! The truth is, nothing is free. Somebody has to pay for the connection to the internet. Why should you get it for free? If a business decides to offer it – great! That’s their perogative and one method of enticing customers to their business. If they decide to charge for a connection and you don’t like it, go somewhere else!

    If you are going to sit/stand there and preach that wi-fi should be free to the masses, then you need to do your part to provide “free” access in your area/neighborhood. Open up your wi-fi router and let everyone in!

  15. The last time I checked, mobile phone calls, when one is moving, are handed off from one antenna to another. Each antenna defines a coverage area for that antenna, in other words, a ‘cell.’ So, it’s still a ‘cellular’ phone call *regardless* of the _signal modulation type_ being employed, be it CDMA, GSM, or otherwise. It’s not one large wireless end-to-end connected, or meshed, constantly-connected grid. Geez, Chris, just say *no* to caffeine, willya??

  16. Boy ! Even the Cruise ships Market/Advertis WI-FI availble on board Ships………….Then the BOMB… AT 75c to a $1 per minute for acess.
    Dont Rock the Boat……………….Did not GORE Invent this Technology???

  17. as any married person knows, *nothing* is free.
    Therefore I don’t expect free wifi.

    That aside, the larger, untouched issue is that no one discusses security. Any wifi is an invitation to hack. Read the stories about people setting up fake servers and capturing info.

    If you HAVE TO use wifi, a secure way to do it is through a VPN. You can set up a server at home, find free ones, or use a pay service. The packets are encrypted, making it much harder to steal your info or hack your laptop.

    This goes for hotels too.

    Please consider this. Not enough press is given to security.

  18. I notice that a couple resturaunts actaully do advertise free wifi, were as starbucks thinks they’re all high and mighty because they have it yet charge money. In place of the i phone I use a PSP, it makes great for checking signals in seconds and I can check my e-mail surf the web (actaully pretty good), or play games multiplayer (socom is just insane online even on the PSP).

  19. I notice that a couple resturaunts actaully do advertise free wifi, were as starbucks thinks they’re all high and mighty because they have it yet charge money. In place of the i phone I use a PSP, it makes great for checking signals in seconds and I can check my e-mail surf the web (actaully pretty good), or play games multiplayer (socom is just insane online even on the PSP).

  20. Free Wi-fi ? What are you? Communist? You can’t require a business to provide you with Free Wi-Fi, who do you think you are? You forget that , that business needs to pay for a Hardwire connection and Equipment to provide that Wi-Fi. Now depending on the service you get is what would make it worth while for you to decide whether to pay for that service or not. Perhaps, it would be best for the business to provide you with free service, as long as, there was a benifit to give you free access but that’s up to the business NOT up to you to require it.

  21. it’s cool you do that but aren’t you afraid they may use it for bad purposes and the isp lay the blame on you? ive always tried to decide between leaving it open and securing it.

  22. Hi Chris, Great show. I’m from Des Moines and was surprised to hear you mention it. Does your friend Tom have a website? I would like to look him up and learn more about what he does.

  23. it’s cool you do that but aren’t you afraid they may use it for bad purposes and the isp lay the blame on you? ive always tried to decide between leaving it open and securing it.

  24. i was on my front porch and my negbor said came over and said stop useing my internet so i said i useing FREE internt you left it open so i just went in my house F him

  25. as being more widely used than computers, yes, with tiny solid state drives growing in capactity. the only problem is figuring out how to make a keyboard and a screen that is easy to see, aka, big

  26. it will give the computer a run for its money but you cant beat online gaming … on the phone you cant watch movies and things like this witch you simply wont be able to do on a mobile phone

  27. Wi-fi should be free. Since it’s something people use, it seems as if some company charge more knowing that customers need the internet at their disposal. If a certain place doesn’t have Wi-fi, so be it! If it’s free, even better. I personally believe that some businesses charge waaaay to much.

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