In the early days of WiFi hotspots, there was a fascinating discussion among many watchers of the space after Paul Boutin pointed out that all of the overhead associated with charging for WiFi (the billing, the access control, the customer support, etc.) most likely cost a lot more than the revenue rolling in from people paying for the WiFi. It appears that the folks at Chicago's O'Hare airport may be learning that the hard way. The airport has been offering $6.95/day WiFi, but travelers are apparently complaining that the WiFi doesn't actually work. Of course, people will often complain, but with free WiFi, at least people aren't expecting nearly as much. Once the fee gets included, those who run the system pretty much need to make sure it can handle the users. So far, the best that anyone from the airport can claim is that the system is "somewhat less stable than we or you would like." Of course, when most of your users are only there for an hour or two at most, stability is somewhat important. Then, of course, there's the fact that they try to pass off some of the blame on flight delays, noting that the system is more likely to get bogged down during delays -- and since O'Hare features the "worst flight delays in the nation," it's a fairly common occurrence. Somehow, that doesn't seem likely to appease angry travelers. Update: Glenn Fleishman has a good followup on the story, claiming it's not really that bad. It's true that the original report has some questionable bits to it, and it turns out this network is simply a temporary "beta" network to have something up and running. However, if it is a beta network and can't handle the traffic, why charge for it? You're charging people for something that isn't ready for prime time. Why not offer it for free until the "real" network is ready to go?
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