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Ontario Technoblog

Ontario Emperor technology blog.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

More free wi-fi

I've told Santa that I want a Hewlett Packard rx1955. But I don't want to pay a monthly fee for wi-fi access. I may not have to:

Kurt Peterson knows how to pick his Wi-Fi. "I go anywhere I can get it for free," he says. "Why should I pay? Enough people do it for free."

Peterson, a Los Angeles union organizer, has been spotted, laptop in hand, cellphone dangling from ear, at a Panera Bread store near Los Angeles International Airport.

Panera, like Schlotzsky's Deli, Krystal restaurants and other independent cafes, libraries, parks and a growing number of cities, offers free wireless Internet access. No strings attached.

The trend marks a major change from well-publicized efforts by companies such as Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and FedEx Kinko's as well as many hotel chains. They offer Internet "hotspots" at many locations for a fee ranging from $4 to $10 a day. Have a Wi-Fi laptop? You can access the Internet in seconds - after you fork over your credit card payment, register and sign in....

Stephen Staats, who runs a health care staffing firm, makes a point of visiting one of the Panera outlets when he's in Los Angeles. "I come here every day I'm in town because I love the free Wi-Fi," he says. "I have my own little office in a booth."...

Wififreespot.com has listings for all 50 states, and separate pages for airports, hotels, RV parks and campgrounds, and vacation rental properties. Hotspot-locations.com and wifinder.com also have global locations.

Neal Yanofsky, executive vice president of the 773-store Panera Bread chain, can't say for sure if he has sold more sandwiches since adding free Wi-Fi service in 2004....

Other chains that offer free Wi-Fi include Diedrich Coffee, Apple retail stores and the EZ Lube auto service chain in California. And most independent coffee houses offer free Wi-Fi to try to lure business away from national chains such as Starbucks....

In California, downtown areas of Long Beach, Hermosa Beach and Culver City have free Wi-Fi. Austin, Cleveland and Spokane, Wash., have Wi-Fi zones, and Philadelphia is building a Wi-Fi system for the entire city....

Be careful when using Wi-Fi in public. If you're doing anything more sensitive than checking e-mail, wait until you get home, says [JiWire CEO Kevin] McKenzie, whose firm sells $39.95 software to make surfing the Wi-Fi web in open cafes more secure.

Still, companies such as Starbucks tout the security - and reliability - of their networks as one reason consumers should pay for access. These companies will continue to appeal to the business traveler who wants consistency, says Jim Sullivan, who runs wififreespot.com.

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