Turning wireless into pipes

Doc Searls is the leader in trying to get us to see that the web cannot and should not be viewed only as a series of pipes through which pass content.

I’m tired of hearing the Net referred to as a “medium”. Same goes for “social media” such as blogs, wikis and IM. Yes, packets go through the Net. In an almost-literal sense, Senator Stevens is right that it’s a system of “pipes”.

But the Net is pure infrastructure. We work on it, just as we work on the electric power grid, the road system and our water and waste treatment systems, all of which also support the transport of stuff (electrons, cars, water, waste).

The status quo wishes us to see it entirely as a transportation system, because there’s money in offering services in tiers, and you need everybody to accept their understanding in order to pull it off. This is at the heart of the net neutrality debate.

Well, I just got back from a series of meetings in a conference room at a Hilton hotel here in Dallas, during which the hotel wanted us to pay for wireless internet access on a per-user basis. Here’s the scenario:

There were 11 of us in a small conference room with a table that seated 12. Naturally, we all wanted access to the net, but the charge for that was $175 per person! That’s $1,925 for internet access for the group. We (I) pitched a fit, and they agreed to cut it significantly, but it was still far more than what we were willing to pay.

Access in a room at the hotel is $12, but $175 for the same access in one of the conference rooms. “It’s standard in the industry,” I was told by the frightened girl I confronted in Conference Services (this challenges the meaning of that word). Can anybody say rip-off?

In order to get away with this kind of “service,” the hotel needs to convince everybody that internet access must be charged on a user basis, because each user requires a separate pipe. This is nuts, and it’s why Doc and many others are fighting for control of the lexicon that is being written rewritten daily.


  1. Terry,

    Long time reader, first time commenter 🙂

    I’ve got an idea for you the next time that you find yourself in a similar situation: one of you pay for the service and let the others piggy-back off of that connection. Windows XP does this sort of thing almost painlessly now, while OSX and Linux have had it for years. Yes, it’s true that it would probably violate the usage agreement, but it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for someone gouging that badly.

    My opinion, for what it’s worth is that the days of paying for internet access are rapidly fading and especially paying for wireless access. As any apartment dweller can attest, there’s little dearth of open access points. The current generation of college kids haven’t developed the habit of paying and aren’t likely to do so in the future. It’s a business model based upon scarcity where the product is quickly becoming almost universally available. One anecdote; the last time that I was in Chicago on business, my laptop was in range of over 40 access points while sitting in the hotel room.



    P.S. I’m 38, but still learning new tricks. My nephews, however, are of the college age. Their generation simply doesn’t view digital content as having intrinsic value; hence, for them it makes no sense to pay for it or for it’s use. I’m not arguing that that is the correct assessment, but it is the dominant one for their age group.

  2. Chuck Pelto says

    TO: Terry Heaton’s
    RE: Interesting Report, That

    Not that I’m surprised that any commercial enterprise wouldn’t try something like this with a captive audience.

    Just another thing to be part of the negotiations when an organization is setting up a convention or conference.

    I’ll have to pass this on to the Denver Chapter of Mensa, which is supposed to host the national Annual Gathering in 2008. I’m sure it’ll rear its ugly head with that activity.

    On the other hand, I’m thinking that future conferences that are not going to require a ballroom to host, might want to shy away from these venues and have their meetings in homes of individuals, instead. Preferably individuals with wifi in their household.

    Such a conference could be a held in a ‘progressive dinner’ sort of format so that one household is not ‘over utilized’. One session at one place. The next at another. Luncheon at a third. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Followed by a bar-crawl.…



  3. Chuck Pelto says

    P.S. An additional thought.…

    .…if the group is TOO large for a household venue, consider a tele-computing conference activity.

    Internet tele-computer conferencing looks like a HIGHLY viable option. Especially if you can have a projector or large screen monitor to assist.

    I’m sure someone can work out the details. I’d love to see them, myself. But this sounds like a highly plausible solution that will force the hotels to compete.

    It’ll all go back to over-priced lousy food and watered-down drinks. [Note: Had a situation like that at a conference hosted at a country club. The martini was mostlly water. And I know my martinis. I rebuked the waiter who brought another one, without quite so much water, but watered down anyway.

    I’ll never go back there again. And if the group suggests we do, I’ll openly reproach whomever it is that suggests it.]

  4. You ought to see what they charge to rent a SVGA wall projector. Rent that puppy three or four times and they’ve paid for it! Everything after that is just gravy.

  5. I ran into this at NAA Connections in Orlando earlier this year … NAA didn’t have wireless access turned on in the conference area because it was $175 per person.

    First, wireless should be free in the hotel. You’re already overpaying for the room anyway. Second, whether free or paid, access should cover you in your room, the lobby or the conf. center … one charge, one day (but free is better).

  6. My company had the same experience at a Hilton in New Jersey. $200 for a single internet connection for a conference room. This cost wasn’t identified when the room was booked for the purpose of hosting a web conference. The cost was identified on the bill later. Business was permenantly lost. A month later, there was no surprise when the hotel was taken over by a different brand (they still charge for access, but it’s only $5)

  7. Hilton is the chain that threw out the restaurant that was giving free dinners on Friday nights to the soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed. They need to spend a little more on their PR deptartment.

  8. I stayed at Homewood Suites and any access, wireless, wired, whatever, was free. Except for dial-up because they charged for local calls. Very inconvenient since one of my access points into the company I was working with was dial-up only. I ended up staying at another hotel because everything was free. You paid for the room, but any access, all calls (except long distance, natch), laundry, etc. was free.

    At another Hilton I stayed at they wanted $10 per day and the only wireless access was in the lobby. Not to mention they again wanted to charge for everything else. I have often said that if Hilton could figure out how to charge you for air in your room, they would. “Industry standard” my foot.

    I basically avoid Hilton anymore even though I am now some kind of “Diamond VIP” member due to my stays at Homewood Suites.

  9. That is pretty outrageous. But not the most expensive I have heard of.

  10. I never stay at a Hilton. I always send them an e‑mail and tell ’em why.

  11. Ease up. The only thing that matters is the total bill for the conference and the quality of what you get, not the à la carte nonsense that goes into the bill.

    I used the new Dallas airport hotel (I think it was the Hilton you mentioned or maybe Hyatt), attached to the international terminal, for a conference earlier this year. The accomodations were outstanding compared with any other airport hotel in the US, and the price was ***dirt cheap***. Yes, they still wanted some idiotic à la carte fees such as you mentioned for the internet connections, but I saved something like $5k vs. my previous meeting at the Chicago Ohare Hilton and everyone liked the place much better.

    They could give you free internet access, but it wouldn’t be free. You would just pay more for the room or other services.

  12. “I was told by the frightened girl I confronted in Conference Services (this challenges the meaning of that word). Can anybody say rip-off?”

    You got so upset that the girl was frightened? Can we assume this means you don’t believe in capitalism? Did you think she was responsible for setting the prices? I hope you don’t do business there again, not to boycot Hilton for price gouging, but for the sake of the peons.

  13. In re comment 4. I wrote about the same thing last month — http://www.di2.nu/200610/11.htm

  14. Outright greed and gouging your customers is not capitalism. That is one of the reasons I have voted with my wallet and avoid giving Hilton any business if possible.

    Poor business practices deserve to be brought to light so that consumers can make informed choices.

  15. It’s incomprehensible that one hotel will charge an exorbitant price for a service that another offers for free.

  16. If any of your group travel a lot, swap out your WiFi card for a phone card from Verizon, Cingular, or Sprint. Their plans for unlimited access are all $60/month.

    With one of those in the group you can then use Bobby’s suggestion up top. Take along a combo router and you’ve got your own hot spot. I’ve got a TwoWire on my desk that cost $25 on ebay, has 4 wired ports, services my wife’s computer on another floor, and gives access to the laptops of any friends who stop by.

  17. “They could give you free internet access, but it wouldn’t be free. You would just pay more for the room or other services.”

    I’d rather have the cost of the internet access hidden in my room rate than pay 1,000 times that cost à la carte. Doubly so because most places compete on the former, so an inflated fee hurts them up front instead of merely killing repeat business.

  18. Greg Powers says

    It’s this type of usurious behavior on the part of hotels (remember the days of $5.00/minute surcharges on using your room phone) that led to everyone carrying cell phones. I haven’t used a hotel room phone for anything but room-to-room or wakeup calls in 5 years. Wonder how much money they’ve “lost”?

  19. I’ll second the suggestion of a data card. Or, if you have a modern cell-phone, many can be used as data access units similar to the aircards, getting similar speeds. And for Verizon and Sprint, enabling that capability does not trigger a contract re-up, so you can turn it on and off as needed.

  20. I have been working in the Hotel industry for well over 15 years (sad to say). I work for a Hilton Property, on our property wireless in the meeting space is complimentary if you wanted hard wired, then there is a charge but it is for the room $250.00 and you can hook up as many as 25 computers to the line. I know that different cities, different management companies have their own rules. The Convention Services Manager most likely was taking the lead of her supervisor or the company policy and was in a bind. Always ask to talk to the GM not the Director if you want to get something changed, nine times out of 10 they will back down. We are in the business to serve our customers not upset them. When someone says it is industry standard, it can mean many things, but what sticks up in my mind is we have shopped our competetion and they are doing it so why can’t we?

    The last hotel I worked for which also was a Hilton Property, we didn’t have wireless in the meeting room, and had to charge $250 for the hard wired and then $100 per each computer, it made no sense to me, and yes customers would complain to the General Manager and hardly ever got charged.

    Please realize that we are a business but yes, each property is run differently.

  21. I had the same problem with Ritz Carlton. Thousands of dollars for wireless. So instead, I requested a land line (t1) for about a tenth of the cost and brought my own wireless router for the participants to be able to use wireless on their individual laptops. As long as everyone wasn’t on it at the same time, it pretty much served the purpose we needed it for, checking email and surfing.

  22. Justin Cannon says

    Why are you suprised about this? Did you complain about the coffee too? The same coffee is free in your guest room at almost every hotel in the world, but the cost of getting coffee in a meeting at a hotel is ridiculous. Did you think the hotel would treat this product any differently? The business model of the entire hotel food and beverage industry is the same, you are at the hotel with limited options and therefore we can charge a premium. I suggest next time that you have your meeting at a different venue.

  23. I am getting more and more worried about the economy and global meltdown.

    The more things change the more they remain the same. The fundamental challenges we face today have changed little since Chaucer penned his observations on life and distilled them in a set of tales. In the modern city of Canterbury University Students analyse and dissect the meanings conveyed in texts set in that very locale in the 1300’s.

    Youngsters face today’s Jekyll and Hyde society not knowing that the Constants remain; love, betrayal, desire, fear. Each story conveys a lesson as we study for our degree in the University of Life, the big diploma mill of which we are all Alumni. We sit grinning like Cheshire cats, thinking we have all the answers.

    We call it a success when we pollute our atmosphere shooting down our own Satellite USA 193, Market Street Credibility is our preferred accreditation and recognition from our peers and fellow consumers, we Poison our Planet for Profit. Banks have crashed before and remember – you can’t eat money.

    Globalization has consequences. Everything we do has consequences, even something simple like buying firewood. The Oregon ODA advises not to obtain anything from out-of-state because of all the insects and diseases it might carry. That is just a relatively local issue. Imagine all the things that are carried around the world each day – each hour. We must protect our future, just as we should remember our past. All over the world, From the UK to the USA and the Seychelles to Egypt, still, yes, STILL, there is no REAL alternative to fossil fuels.

    Are we all going to purgatory in a wheelbarrow telling each other stories to pass the time? Sometimes I wonder!

    Sorry guys, I had a long day and feel sick of the world. Rant Over!


  1. […] They ain’t done yet. It’s a full time job, being stupid: Well, I just got back from a series of meetings in a conference room at a Hilton hotel here in Dallas, during which the hotel wanted us to pay for wireless internet access on a per-user basis. Here’s the scenario: […]

  2. Which coincides so effectively with my complaint about Hilton

    Here’s a great example of bad capitalism at a Hilton Hotel in Dallas.
    I really get irritated with people who respond to things like this with “They can do whatever they want, it’s a business!”. That or hiding behind the banner…

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