WiFi For Paying Customers Only?

free wifi

I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that I have a love-hate relationship with establishments that offer free WiFi. I am most certainly a part of the minority when it comes to mobile communication in that I do not subscribe to a costly monthly data plan. Instead, I rely on affordable day passes purchased through my cellular provider, as well as free wireless generously extended by cafes and restaurants.  Regarding the latter, I genuinely try not to take advantage of a small business’s offer of free WiFi, much the same as the freedom to use their restrooms in a pinch.  In both cases, I always make a concerted effort to make a token purchase, or throw some loose change into the tip jar.  Whether you call it good karma, human decency or simply the right thing to do, unfortunately there are many people who display wanton disregard for proper WiFi etiquette.  It irks me to walk into a locally owned cafe and spot dozens of non-paying customers who are there simply to leach free bandwidth.  Accordingly, this week’s poll asks:

Should local restaurants and cafes place restrictions on WiFi usage?

  • Yes. Paying customers only. (48%, 38 Votes)
  • No. Free WiFi is essential. (30%, 24 Votes)
  • Yes. Time Restrictions. (14%, 11 Votes)
  • Doesn't Matter, I have a data plan. (8%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 79

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Not to single out any business in particular, but if you were to stroll on by cafes like The Sleepless Goat, Starbucks, Coffeeco and even McDonalds, you’ll be met with starkly different policies and practices concerning free wireless.  Some of these establishments go so far as to promote the fact that they have free WiFi, while others simply do not police its usage or require users to be paying customers.  I suppose the mentality is that if these businesses can get us in the door, we’ll eventually buy something.  Nevertheless, this stance has created what one author refers to as “laptop squatters and hobos“, while businesses have responded by banning laptops, changing WiFi passwords every 2 hours, and covering electrical outlets to deter people from setting up their mobile office.  Such measures may seem a bit extreme for Kingstonians who are use to less strict rules, however some local establishments have enacted similar strategies in that wireless networks are password protected, passwords change frequently and soft time restrictions are placed on how long you can sit without being a paying customer.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against businesses offering free wireless.  If businesses go so far as to give away bandwidth to the non-paying public, that’s certainly their prerogative and we all benefit.  However, my concern with that arrangement is that small businesses might not be able to offer the same technological amenities as larger, corporately owned chains.  Where should we draw the line on WiFi etiquette?  Or, should we simply let businesses play by their own rules and let the chips fall where they may?  Drop off your thoughts below.

Thanks to Vinu Thomas for today’s photo.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

3 thoughts on “WiFi For Paying Customers Only?

  • This is an interesting dilemma for the coffee shops I frequent in downtown Kingston. The same arguments to be made – pro and con – for free wifi could also be made for whether or not coffee shops provide patrons with a selection of free newspapers. I take the short walk downtown as many as five times a week for a latte and the simple fact is the coffee shop with the best selection of newspapers is the one that gets my business..(The Sleepless Goat is getting high points). I am sure the same logic applies for patrons who enjoy browsing their favourite websites over a coffee … I wouldn't dream of sitting down with a newspaper without buying a coffee. While there are no doubt those who abuse free wifi (free with a purchase ) I think most, like myself, exercise some degree of respect for the businesses we patronize. I think that businesses, particularly coffee shops, are shooting themselves in the foot by not offering free wifi to their patrons. I personally believe that the City would be doing a wonderful service to it's citizens by offering free wifi in the downtown core .

  • Polls are great tools for many things. For a subject matter like this, I found it hard to pick an answer. There was no “Other” or even an “All of the above” choice.

    Here’s why I found it difficult to answer.

    I understand when indie coffee shop owners feel the need to create policies reducing or discontinuing wifi or power access, or even creating seating time limits for the sake of business goals.

    But consider this: some rules or changes can adversely affect a segment of their customer base. They risk losing a portion of once-dedicated customers to the shop down the street, or to one of the closer corporate owned locations. Indie coffee shop owners have to ask themselves if this is what they want.

    Do they want to alienate a customer segment because spaces are occupied by laptops and their owners? Or can they come up with some creative solutions, like peak hour limitations or multiple purchase incentives? Either way, they are the owners & they can do what they want with their cafes.

    Conversely, customers who squat on free wifi and power sources need to realize that the table and chair they’re using are neither public nor free. Buying the bare minimum, or nothing at all, is just plain rude. The owners, managers and staff who allow it should be commended for their patience, understanding and foresight.

    I love working from a coffee shop – which I call my Coffice. Like you, Harvey, I try to adhere to a certain amount of etiquette. I don’t like finding out that a bad element of so-called “laptop hobos” have ruined my ability to do what I love.

    As a start, here are my suggestions to your readers who might consider a Kingston Coffice workstyle: Buy something. Share space if needed. Don’t be a power hog. Clean up after yourself. Be nice. Tip well. Tip often. Enjoy. Repeat tomorrow.

    Sam Title, CEO

    P.S., Your readers might be interested in knowing that indie coffee shops in New York City outnumber the big chains…Starbucks included.

  • Free wifi means free wifi, It’s not “pay because you feel guilty wifi service”. If the business can’t support free wifi, they shouldn’t advertize it as free. Offering free wifi, and then getting annoyed because everyone is using it is a bit of a social feaux pas. Most businesses increase the price of everything they sell, so that they can offer free wifi. So, believe me, they’ve done the math beforehand… and when the business model no longer makes sense, they will stop offering free wifi. It’s as simple as that. No need for a snarky, backhanded article that tries to use guilt to get people to pay for something that’s already “free”.

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