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When free no longer is

By Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca.

As a freelance writer a few years back, there was many a day I would head over to the coffee shop or local restaurant during the weekday dead period, plunk down a pen and pad or a computer and get to work.

Usually I bought a coffee, then a sandwich and then maybe a snack and another coffee before paying my bill. It was an expensive life, freelancing, but it was the price I paid to not bounce off the walls of my stiflingly small bachelor pad.

Not everyone is as into buying things when using Wi-Fi, however, and according to the Wall Street Journal, some restaurants in New York are fighting back:

A sign at Naidre's, a small neighborhood coffee shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., begins warmly: "Dear customers, we are absolutely thrilled that you like us so much that you want to spend the day..." But, it continues, "...people gotta eat, and to eat they gotta sit."

Naidre's is one of a number of small businesses in New York that is imposing limits on Wi-Fi freeloading, asking that laptop-toting customers take their business elsewhere during peak hours when the lunchtime crowd wants to eat. Other coffee shops and restaurants have taken other measures, the story says, plugging outlets during peak hours or banning laptops entirely.

I can see both sides of the story here. Electricity, Wi-Fi and table space at a place of business are perks based on the business model that the customer actually buys something, a very real-world way of doing things.

But those growing up in the internet age have routinely come to expect that many things are free - free mp3s, free clips of the Colbert Report, free Wi-Fi at Starbucks. It is not to say that these people insist that these things must be free in some political sense, but rather that they have come to expect it, and therefore won't react well to it being taken away. Rupert Murdoch, take note.

It's an interesting debate, and I'm curious to know what experience others have had when taking their laptop out in public.

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Steve La Rocque

Ottawa

Coffee shops offering wi-fi access for their customers are my habit too. But there's a difference between free wi-fi and freeloading, so I'm happy to ensure that I'm buying something from them every hour or less that I'm there.

My favourite spot, a local chain called BridgeHead, offers a one-hour-ticket (username and password) when you purchase something. There's no privacy-invasive "registration system" and the legalese isn't some 20 page long click-Agree-blindly assault on your common sense.

This model is simple and respectful for customers and ensures that if you want to sit there all day, then you are a continuous source of revenue for the establishment.

Good models for wi-fi do exist.

Posted August 7, 2009 01:40 PM

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