November 11, 2002  ·  Lessig

The lack of broadband access at hotels drives me nuts. It was bad enough when you had to carry a screw driver and alligator clips. But it’s been years since cheap and effective broadband technologies should have been deployed in major hotels. So it was a pleasant surprise when I received spam about this offer from W Hotels — offering “free” Broadband Internet Access plus telephone calls — for stupid people, apparently.

It was a pleasant surprise because I had hoped it would signal a trend. Just like TV, and electricity are “free” at hotels, so too should internet access — at least at hotels that are trying to attract business clients. And more importantly, the access should be as simple as plugging a shaver or hairdryer into an outlet. If the market really worked, then there’d be wi-fi access throughout hotels, with no registration or payment needed.

Instead hotels are installing idiot firewalled systems that break end-to-end compatibility — and for $10 to $20 a day. (I had to check out of a Westin in DC when its server refused to allow me to connect to my smtp server. After convincing the “tech people” the problem was their server and not my settings, I was informed that they set their systems up like that to avoid spammers “abusing” their system. I hadn’t realized there was a problem of spammers checking into Westin hotels and sending spam.)

So I followed the link in the email from the W Hotels to see what the future may hold. I ran a search on rooms at the W in San Francisco to get some rates. And guess what: The rates for the “WIRED” [SIC] rooms are about $100 higher than the exact same rooms’ “Internet Only rates.”

So: if you use the internet to get WIRED rooms with the W, you’ll pay $100 more a night than if you use the internet to get “Internet Only” rates. Only with “Internet Only” rates, you don’t get the internet. To get the internet with internet only rate rooms, you have to pay $9.95. Go figure. At least you’ll be saving about 90 bucks.

Hey hotels, here’s an idea: Just offer simple, unfirewalled, wireless broadband access on 1/2 your floors; charge $10 more per room, and see what the market demands. And stop picking on stupid people.