Free Wi-Fi For The Holidays

Google, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft are providing free Wi-Fi access for travelers during the holiday season, the Associated Press reports.

 Google will sponsor free Wi-Fi access in 47 airports across the country, including Boston and Baltimore, now through Jan. 15. (I love to point out that our own Bradley International Airport already has free Wi-Fi — all the time.) Google is also sponsoring free Wi-Fi on Virgin America flights during the same period.

In addition,  eBay is sponsoring free Wi-Fi on some Delta Air Lines jets during Thanksgiving week, Microsoft is sponsoring Wi-Fi at some hotels and airports, and Yahoo! is giving it away in Times Square.

I’m all for it. Wi-Fi has never been too free for me.

It’s interesting, though, that Wi-Fi was originally seen as a value-added service, something that would draw customers when provided free. Some restaurants and hotels still do that, and Starbucks does it in a limited way, but many establishments dropped out or started charging. Airlines have been adding it as a pay-as-you-go option, but are having trouble getting passengers to pay.

Now it seems to be swinging back toward free with some form of marketing attached. The user is directed to a page that promotes a brand or tries to sell it but can then browse without restriction. The question is whether companies will  find this kind of promotion worth the cost, or whether it will end forever when the Christmas lights come down.

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