For free (sponsored) wireless at airports

Can we find corporate or advocacy-group sponsors for wireless internet access at airports?

Now that TSA requires that we all get to the airport early enough to have time to kill at the gate, it would be nice to be able to get some work done. For pennies per passenger, airports could offer free wireless networks. Instead, they’ve sold franchises to various outfits, including Yahoo!, which then charge for the service.

The $10 or whatever isn’t really a major problem, but the time it takes to sign up and pay is. Of course the airports are scrambling for revenue, but I for one would much rather have the charge built into the ticket price, just to save the time and the memorization of one more username and password. At one time both San Jose and Burbank were configured for free wireless; I don’t know whether that’s still true, or whether any other airports have gone that way, but I haven’t been in an airport that didn’t charge for wireless access in two years.

Since the airport authorities aren’t likely to give up whatever their rake-off is, I have an alternative to propose: sponsorship. Airports are full of good customers for various expensive purchases, and people logging in on their laptops from airports are probably from a better-than-average (from a marketer’s viewpoint) demographic even among airport users. Why shouldn’t Sony or Microsoft or Citigroup or AT&T bargain with the airport to be able, in return for providing free wireless access and paying some cash, to be able to put up signs around the airport and have an ad on the sign-in screen? Or maybe some advocacy group (EFF springs to mind) could find a donor willing to spring for whatever it would cost to provide a convenience to travelers while also for the group’s viewpoint.

Since the travelers are their customers, the airport authorities ought to be willing to sell sponsorships for somewhat less than they’re currently taking in from Yahoo! or whatever their current vendor is. I’m not competent to estimate the dollar figures involved, and for all I know this isn’t a new idea. I invite enlightenment from those more skilled in this art than I am.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on “For free (sponsored) wireless at airports”

  1. McCarran in Las Vegas had free wifi when I was there in June for Yearlykos. haven't been back since, but I was delighted, as compared to Dulles in DC suburbs which did not.

  2. You're probably more likely to find that in small cities. Boise (at least as of last March, and for some time before that) had free wireless in the airport, sponsored by Micron (which is headquartered there).

  3. Isn't the Right Answer here to figure out how to reduce wait times while maintaining effective security measures, rather than make the time waiting around slightly less unpleasant.

  4. Last time I was in an American airport it was actually pretty easy to work my way into the wireless network. Here's how it works: Your computer can communicate via WiFi not just with the central hub but also with other clients — other clients who may have paid for open access. So all you have to do is get a list of all the other peers that are connected, and then wait for one of them to disconnect. At that point you reset your wireless card's MAC address and IP address to match the one that just disconnected (you do have a configurable MAC address, right?), and presto, as far as the router knows, your computer is his computer.
    I also consider this to be a pretty good reason not to pay for wireless in the airport, by the way.

  5. (In case the meaning of my last paragraph wasn't clear: After you and your computer leave the airport, it's possible that someone could continue using your account and maybe even run up additional charges. I believe that when I did it, it was a pay-for-your-hour-in-advance system.)
    Also, they may have developed a better system since then, but I wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't.)

  6. my dad is a commissioner at the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena airport (found here. While he can be little on the gruff side, he's perfectly approachable if you're prepared. Instead of leaving this as a plaintive post in the wildnerness [obscure reference to the motto of Dartmouth College, my alma mater), give him or Dios (the Executive Officer) a call.

  7. The point of our airport experience under the current regime is to habituate us to the arbitrary exercise of power against individual autonomy in the name of collective safety. After you have been scolded for failing to disclose the presence of a prescription inhaler in your carry-on bag, and stopped with a myriad of other cowed and sockfooted citizens to put your shoes on, and then compelled to pay outrageous prices for approved water to bring on a plane – none of which will make you safer and about none of which will you complain for fear of having your named enrolled on a list which will ensure a tenfold increase in government intrusion into your travel plans – do you really think you have any status to suggest that at least regarding wifi "airport authorities" treat you rationally, much less with respect? Such suggestions are the purvue of our betters, sir, and not the business of mere citizens.

  8. It's easy for a well-to-do passenger who travels a lot to argue that it should be built into the ticket price. But why should all the other passengers who struggle to afford the ticket price as it is have to subsidize those who are wealthy enough to own laptops?
    And, isn't there plenty of work you can do that does'nt require the internet? I always wonder, who really "needs" the internet to be productive 100% of the time? Don't you have articles to read? Papers to grade? Research to write up? I think your productivity argument doesn't really hold water.

  9. Knowing a little bit about what it takes to set up a large-volume WiFi network, and observing the levels of service at airports with for-pay services, I have to laugh. The vendor at an airport such as ATL must be swimming in Scrooge McDuck's pool of cash at $10/user/day.
    Cranky

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