“Free Wi-Fi” fraud
I have become increasingly frustrated by businesses that lure me in as a customer based on the promise of “free Wi-Fi” or similar enticements, only to frustrate me when the promised service turns out not to be available.
I have lost count of the times I have chosen one restaurant over another, or one lodging over another, because the business that I chose claimed to have wireless Internet access, and then I discovered that, in reality, it didn’t.
Sometimes, perhaps, it is an honest mistake. The lodging that Pat and I are currently in seems to be very well-intentioned. The folks who run it are aware that the rooms at the back of the complex haven’t been able to get a wireless signal, and they seem to be trying to do something about it. Saturday, they even had a technician out from their wireless service provider, who was working on making things right. Problem was, the technician seems to have made things worse … Saturday morning, we couldn’t get a good signal in the room, but we could go to the lounge just off the lobby and get a signal that was sporadic but usable. During the day Saturday, the technician showed up and, according to the desk clerk we talked to Saturday evening, “fixed everything.” Saturday evening, we not only couldn’t get a signal in the room, we couldn’t even get a signal in the lounge. The desk clerk gave us the phone number for the technical services; we got a recording and left a voice mail message.
But there are many other times that I believe the “free Wi-Fi” advertisement is nothing but a fraud. The owners of the business know full well that the connection they’re advertising is just piggy-backing on a neighboring business, or on a public access point, that they don’t have any real control over. Or they don’t have any real connection at all, but they feel they can just blame any failure to connect on the customer’s computer or software. There was one time when we went to a restaurant that was next-door to a Lexus dealership, when Gerald needed to download some important information. When he attempted to connect to the restaurant’s Wi-Fi, he got a screen asking for his Lexus Preferred Customer ID Number.
Back when I was growing up, motels would generate business by putting up billboards that advertised “Color TV” and “Heated Pool.” And those businesses would keep the promises made in the advertising – if they didn’t, customers would take their business to another motel that really did have color televisions and a heated pool. But “Free Wireless Internet” and “Free Wi-Fi” don’t seem to carry the same obligation to truthfulness.
It really frustrates me when I choose to do business with a particular establishment based on the Internet access, and then it turns out that the access is a fiction. When I pay more for food or beer than I would have, or more for lodging, in order to get access that doesn’t exist, I have been defrauded. When I spend extra time and fuel going out of my way to go to a place that supposedly has Internet access but really doesn’t, I have been defrauded. What has been really frustrating for me is that about two-thirds of the times that I have chosen a business because of wireless Internet access, that access has not existed.
Businesses complain, rightfully, about people who come in and freeload off the businesses’ Wi-Fi without buying anything, and I agree that that practice is wrong. If a business has gone to the expense and trouble of providing Wi-Fi, the computer user should at least make a small purchase to reward the business owner for that effort. Not to do so is dishonest. Conversely, however, the business must keep up its end of the deal, or it is being dishonest.
Here is what I’d like to say to such business establishments: “Because you lured me into your overpriced restaurant with the promise of wireless Internet access that you didn’t deliver, I request that you repay me the cost of the meal. Because you lured me into your overpriced bar with the promise of wireless Internet access that you didn’t deliver, I request that you repay me the cost of my drinks. Because you lured me into your overpriced lodging with the promise of wireless Internet access that you didn’t deliver, I request that you repay me the cost of the room.” (Note: the motel in Tempe does NOT fall into the overpriced category, and in fact, the extremely low price is one reason I’m willing to forgive its lack of reliable Wi-Fi.)
Yeah, I know, that’s not going to happen. The businesses that promise free wireless Internet have endless ways of arguing that they’re trying, in good faith, but there are technical difficulties.
It occurs to me that there ought to be – and given the nature of the Internet, there probably already is – an index of businesses that falsely claim free wireless Internet access when they don’t really have it. Back in the old days, a traveler could quickly see there wasn’t a color TV or heated pool; nowadays, the traveler doesn’t discover the Wi-Fi doesn’t exist until after she has checked in. But if there’s an index, she can stay away from lodgings that make false claims.