RaeSea Internet Marketing Blog

Pronounced “Ray” “Sea”

Free Wi-Fi will never last…

A colleague and I were discussing a new Search Engine Marketing client and their plan to market to the growing world of RV parks and users. KOA Campgrounds is now offering free Wi-Fi at most of its locations and the client was excited to let us know this fact.

The service is also increasingly provided for free. In the 2007 KOA Directory, 324 of the 379 KOAs offering Wi-Fi list it as free. In 2006, only 281 KOAs offered Wi-Fi, and only 167 of those were free.

Being who we are we immediately began exploring the implications of free and paid Wi-Fi access and found ourselves on opposite side of the fence. 

Me: The really cool thing is that there is money to be made selling Wi-Fi at those parks.

My Colleague: I think charging people for Wi-Fi is BS.

Me: WTF?  I think that this shift to offer “free” Wi-Fi at venues is going to be short lived and that things will very soon return to the vending machine model of providing Hotspots or Wi-Fi.

My Colleague: I hate it when coffee shops try to charge me to use their Wi-Fi…or hotels. 

My Colleagues desire to have free Wi-Fi (let’s just say free internet access) stems from his perception that it doesn’t cost anything to share an internet connection. The Internet access is already there, paid for at a certain “promised” transfer rate. Why not give away what isn’t being used by the person who owns the access point?  The problem is that there is a finite amount of bandwidth that any connection can provide and that increasing the pipe size to account for the increase in traffic costs money. It’s really just like water. A high rise apartment community of 500 units will consume and pay for far more water than a single family home. Both have water pipes, one is just far larger than the other.  What would happen to the homeowner who allowed his neighbors to connect to his water line free of charge? Eventually someone would get a very large water bill. 

As more and more internet traffic becomes streaming videos, VoIP conversations, on demand movie downloads, and other bandwidth hogs, the WI-FI access points (free or not) are going to become over utilized. Every new device that hits the market seems to have some form of Wi-Fi access card installed. How long before it becomes hard just to get enough bandwidth to download a webpage at a free Wi-Fi spot?  Will the free users complain that they can’t use the free service as there is not enough free bandwidth available? Will the hotspot owner then buy more bandwidth to give away for free?  Or will they instead act like our earlier referenced homeowner who just got his $3000 water bill and charge his neighbors or turn off the spigot?  I’m guessing the later. 

Let’s face it.  Free internet access will become a thing of the past…just like free water.


July 11, 2007 - Posted by | Hosting, Hotspots, Internet, News, RV, technology, Wi-Fi


  1. What kind of effect will the air card market have on these services? That would allow people not to have to pay separately for wifi at every spot.

    Comment by moth1 | July 11, 2007 | Reply

  2. Air card service is not the same thing as a Wi-Fi network. Air cards get you to the internet over a cellular network and to date the connections are nothing close to the consistency and speeds offered by land lines.
    Wi-Fi does the job using a short (comparably) range wireless network powered by a device with a WAN connection. This connection is usually some flavor of DSL, Cable Modem, T-1 line or whatever internet connection the facility may have (that could even be a dial-up modem which would be rather humorous but would work).
    In any event, the Air card type of network can be augmented by adding to or improving existing cellular towers. The cost for this would be incremental and offset against the increase in demand for additional service for phones. However, the hard wired Cable/DSL/Whatever connections have finite ability to provide for increased traffic. More wires would need to be pulled, or new wireless technologies developed to accommodate the increase in demand for internet service through those mediums.
    Either way, costs will be incurred and passed on to the consumer.

    Comment by raesea1 | July 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. I know somebody has to pay for that Wi-Fi, but right now it is still not a commodity; it’ a feature. At the end of the day, the RV parks have to make sure they have what is expected of them from the RV owners. That includes Wi-Fi, at least cable TV (although more and more RVs are using satellite) and, obviously, a good cell signal.

    Even if it is a commodity, it will be a competitive commodity. It’s not apples to apples to compare to water, because you pretty much don’t have a choice when it comes to water. Therefore, they can charge. It’s more like long distance (which is now pretty much unlimited in most cases) or internet service at home (which isn’t free, but gets cheaper by the day for faster and faster speeds). Each company has to have some kind of advantage. If there’s competition, then free will always be an option.

    Maybe the opportunity for RV parks is to have sponsored providers of the service. It could be niche specific (like, say, a mosquito repellent for folks who obviously appreciate outdoor living), and available on the home page when you first open your browser in that system. It pays for the service, lets the RV campground off the hook for having to front the cost, and gives a target product a targeted audience to communicate with (without being too much of a pest – no pun intended).

    Comment by Brett | July 12, 2007 | Reply

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