Whatever happened to …

… open wifi? Thanks, Alfred Thompson for this suggestion…
Lately I have been wondering what happened to open wi fi access points. It used to be that you could find and connect to open access points all over the place. These days there are more access points but fewer of them are open.
It’s an interesting question. I took a little mental walk through my town thinking about access points that I know of.
  • Ford Dealership
  • High School
  • Elementary School
  • McDonalds
  • Caffeine and Co.
  • Tim Horton’s (two of them)
  • All of the restaurants on Dalhousie Street
  • Doctor’s Office
  • Both supermarkets
  • Three pharmacies
  • Public library
  • The Peterson’s
  • Our neighbour
At times, I feel like the smartphone in my pocket is like a divining rod.  It’s not uncommon to get notifications that there are networks “within range”.  The implication is that you can use them for faster speeds and an alternative to the data plan that comes with a phone. DSC_1407 The common thread to all of these above is that they are all free.  But, they’re not necessarily “open” as in I see the access point but can’t connect until I enter a password or agree to their terms of service.  In order to get that password, typically you have to go into the business and ask or read the signs posted. It’s an interesting ponder when you think of the concept of internet access other than at home.  I can recall a time when you’d go to a hotel and there would be internet access but it typically came with a fee.  I remember debating whether or not to add $10.95 or $11.95 to my bill. As internet access became ubiquitous, the costs went away.  It’s now typically a selling point and you see the signs on these buildings “free internet”.  But typically not open – you need to sign in with your room number or name, etc. So, to answer Alfred’s question, I don’t really know.  I have my suspicions though.
  • in the beginning, it was seen as a source of income but now it’s value added to either separate your business or become competitive with others
  • the first networks were installed to be a convenience for their customers but the bandwidth was taken up by people sitting or standing outside the building
  • owners of locations want to know how much their network is being used
  • internet retailers use the analytics to determine just how much bandwidth they need to sell
  • the first networks were installed by hobbyists who really didn’t understand how to secure the network
  • the network shared with other devices crucial to the operation of the business like portable debit/credit machines or printers so there needs to be a certain amount left “for business”
  • nobody anywhere wants to have their network hacked or spammed so by identifying whose logged on, they can point fingers at miscreants
Thanks, Alfred, for the question.  As should be clear from the above, I don’t know the answer but have some guesses. How about your thoughts for a Sunday morning.
  • have you noticed the lack of open wifi networks?  Do you have any theories or knowledge why?
  • where can you connect in your town when you’re out and about?
  • is Internet access a universal right?
  • do you secure your home network with a password?
  • if you do, do you give it out freely to guests?
  • if you do, how frequently do you change the password?
  • have you ever turned off your wifi or used a utility to limit it and control screen time?
  • what channels do you use at home?  2.4GHz or 5GHz?  Why?
  • what security protocol do you use?
  • is internet access so easily available that you don’t buy a data plan for your smartphone and just plan on attaching to someone else’s network?
  • given a choice between two coffee shops or two restaurants one with free wifi and the other without, are you likely to choose one over the other?
That was a fun wondering, Alfred.  I don’t know the answers and really hadn’t thought about the topic.  Thanks.  Please let Alfred know your thoughts in the comments below. This is part of a regular Sunday series.  They can all be visited here.  I really appreciate and look forward to your comments on the posts.  Please don’t disappoint and, if you’re interested, share the link on Social Media to get more involved. And, if you have an idea for a post, please let me know.  Like Alfred’s suggestion, it’s always fun to dig into questions that puzzle the masses.
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6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Hi Doug! While wifi may not be totally open, I find that there are so many businesses with free wifi that I never wish for a phone with data. There is always somewhere close by that I can connect if I want. Even many restaurants have wifi access now. I wonder what other have experienced. Is this just because I live in a bigger city centre? What about those from smaller places?

    Aviva

  2. I think that Alfred’s original premise goes beyond simply being connected. How many of the access points you use require that you actually have to enter a passcode to get in or are they truly wide open?

  3. Most of mine are wide open (like at the restaurants and coffee shops I frequent). The school ones require a passcode, but there is a guest one that anyone can use. It’s the same for all HWDSB schools and admin buildings, and we give out that passcode. Hope this helps!

    Aviva

  4. Everyone in my neighbourhood appears to have password protected wifi. One of them even has a wireless printer that shows up on the list. I wish it wasn’t protected because I’d get a laugh out of sending messages. LoL. We have a password on ours because the more devices in use the slower the network. We do share with guests though.

  5. We just got back from a four week camping trip and almost every campground we stayed at had wifi, but the connection varied greatly. All of them were password protected except one. At one campground near San Francisco the wifi was only free in the office and you had to pay $7 per day for wifi. At another, you got one hour of wifi free/day. Most of the places we stayed the internet was so slow it was almost impossible to do anything online. When we first moved to our lake house, I used the wifi at the library until we got wifi at home. You don’t need a password but you do need a library card. I wish someone around here had an unprotected wireless printer. I like Lisa Corbett’s idea – that would be a blast. You could send messages like the episode on the office when Jim was sending Dwight messages from ‘future Dwight.’

  6. One thing that seems to have happened in the States at least is the ISPs are providing wi-fi access points and defaulting to having them password protected. I think that comes from them wanting to limit the traffic on their networks to their own customers. On the other hand the last couple of access points I have bought for my own use have come with password protection on. In other words, in the beginning the default was wide open but now it is locked tight. Our attitudes about privacy have changed.

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