Free WiFi For All!

October 23rd, 2011 at 4:25 pm

(I realize this is a low-level problem compared to much of what graces these pages, but it’s notable, nevertheless.)

In DC’s Nat’l airport where I spend more time than I’d like.  Though, truth be told, it’s a well-designed place with pretty smooth systems, including the TSA checkpoints, which usually take no more than a few minutes to get through.

They’ve now added free WiFi here which I think is extremely cool.  It’s very spotty–goes down every few minutes–so it needs work.  But there are a lot of airports through which I travel that charge you for this (I’m talkin’ to you, O’Hare!!).

As an economist, I have to think about who eats the price, but it is one of those services that is (largely) non-exhaustive–it doesn’t cost more at the margin to add a new user (putting aside bandwidth issues that may not be trivial…).  So I’m not saying it’s a free lunch–there’s a user fee somewhere, but even if it’s looking at some ads that popup (whoops–just lost service!), it’s a nice change.  (Oh, did I mention I’m plugged in at one of their charging stations…double ka’ching!!)

Of course, flying ain’t what it used to be, if it ever was, although it does provide tons of material for stand-up comics.  But amenities like this help.

Update: Go Tampa Int’l!  Nice free wifi–less shaky than DC–nice little charging station…and Annie Lenox on the sound system!  Of course, the plane’s delayed, but whaddya gonna do?

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4 comments in reply to "Free WiFi For All!"

  1. Auros Harman says:

    There definitely is a noticable cost to add capacity for WiFi. You can set up a consumer-grade home system that will support, say, 6-12 users, for cheap, but once you start getting into the dozens, or hundreds, the equipment rapidly gets more expensive, and you have to start thinking about signal interference, whether you want each hotspot to create its own network, or operate in some kind of mesh of repeaters, etc.

    As WiMax starts to become ubiquitous, though, the cost for an airport sized network should plummet.


  2. WRD says:

    Why not also mention the bizarre regulations limiting flights in and out of National Airport? It makes it too expensive for most of us out here in Greater Washington to use National unless we can trick our employers into paying.


  3. The Raven says:

    You might, if you want, consider if wireless telephone and data service is, oh, just a wee little bit over-priced. Like, by a factor of 5 or 10.

    (Most of the capital of a wireline telecomm service is in the “wire plant”–the wires that go to each building served. Wireless carriers do not have that need.)


  4. Jill Shaffer Hammond says:

    You’re fast becoming my most favorite econo-blogger (sorry, PK and EK), ‘cuz you really get to the important stuff and I like the way you talk.

    Ya’know, sometimes the small stuff really IS the important stuff. Makes all the big stuff bearable.


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