Wi-Fi shouldn’t be a toll road

by Mathew on January 3, 2006 · 5 comments

I don’t fly to Boston much, but I’m still interested in the fight going on between Logan airport and Continental Airlines over public Wi-Fi. The airport — which is run by the Massachusetts Port Authority — shut down Continental’s wireless network last fall, and the airline has asked Congress to intervene.

Massport says it wants to avoid interference from a bunch of competing wireless signals, but the airlines (including American Airlines) argue that what it really wants is a monopoly on Wi-Fi, for which it charges $8 an hour. I’m with Fred Wilson (and others) on this: Wi-Fi should be a form of public infrastructure, like roads or bridges.

I also like an analogy I first saw in a Wired article by Paul Boutin: Wi-Fi is a condiment, like sugar or cream, or salt and pepper. Providing it is a service that you hope will make people want to come back to your establishment. Hardly anyone charges for the use of their washrooms either — not even airports.

There’s more discussion at WSJ writer Jeremy Wagstaff’s blog and at WiFi Networking News. Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet has also posted on it, as has my friend Rob Hyndman.

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  • http://www.stuartmacdonald.ca Stuart MacDonald

    I have to disagree with you on this one, to a point. WiFi isn’t infrastructure like roads or bridges that should be paid for by our taxes — it is a communications service that should either be charged for or included, like salt when you buy a meal. If an airport authority wants to give it away, then good for them. Travellers rejoice. But what’s irksome about this one is that it’s a case of MASSport simply being a lousy landlord. The airlines want to include this service as a value-add (or, presumably, have be able to designate a preferred for-fee access provider in their lounge as is the case for most of the US carriers). It would be like MASSport telling Marriott or whoever has the contract to run their in-airport food service locations that they have to use a specific type of ketchup, or that a 2-for-1 burger deal is off-limits. Silly, no?

    As an aside, I was last at Logan in the Fall, and in the Lufthansa lounge (I was off to Germany) there was only MASSport WiFi. I didn’t know about this issue, but did find it odd at the time because LH has comp WiFi everywhere, and even for-fee WiFi on many of their aircraft (though not from Canada – go figure). I chose *not* to spring for MASSport’s daily fee, but did avail myself of their comp webcast of the CNN Airport Channel to watch some Sunday afternoon football. My little effort at fighting Da Man.

    - Stuart

  • Mathew

    I think we actually agree, Stuart — I’m more inclined to the condiment model than the public utility model. But whichever model you pick, Massport’s approach is stupid.

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