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Existential Punk

A coffee shop in Portland, Oregon i visit whenever in town turns their free wifi off during certain hours during the week and on the weekends so as to accommodate customers doing more than drinking one cuppa joe. I enjoy having access to free wifi and make sure i spend more than enough to justify my time spent.

Sidenote: Spoke with someone yesterday at Starbucks here in Virginia about free wifi not being provided by them. She said Starbucks was stuck in a contract with TMobile before wifi became all the rage here in the USA. She said they are in works to provide it for free eventually. We shall see!

dave paisley

For any kind of business this is a pretty straightforward equation - "will wi-fi (free or otherwise) enhance my business?" (i.e. in most cases, make me more money?) If free wi-fi doesn't attract customers who will buy other things then it's already a dead duck.

Even with paid wi-fi, the Starbucks around here (mothership Seattle) are already uninhabitable for casual coffee drinking because of the 8 million people trying to sell more suckers on the latest pyramid scheme.

Starbucks is all about making money, so I really don't see them going to free wi-fi - what would be the business case?

A mixed paid/free wi-fi system based on typical store traffic could work in theory, but would be awfully frustrating from both a user and operator standpoint.

steve collins

i guess in the end there's no such thing as free wifi, it's an illusion created by diffusing the cost across all customers, in the same way as the heating or lighting bill. which makes sense when said costs are basic to the operation of the cafe, without which nobody will come. wifi isn't considered to be in that category yet here - so the few individuals who want it have to pay up front. which makes it expensive or seemingly so - a few people bearing the whole cost - several pounds on the bill instead of a few pence on everything you consume. and you think, i've already paid for this at home, why don't i just stay there? i dare say we'd feel it if the people at the back of the cafe had to pay for the light they used and the people by the window didn't.

there's a social commons issue - the invisible cost that everybody bears because enough of us use it and/or it's felt to be a good thing. in austin free wifi is definitely part of the social commons - it seemed outrageous that the hilton charged when even other hotels didn't - in london it's a luxury, you want it you can pay for it mate ;|



Adam L. Feldman

i work in a locally-owned coffee shop (we roast our own coffee beans, too). i asked my boss why we don't have wifi. her response was very similar to the one you reported here. the thrust of her reasoning, however, was that she desires her coffee shop to be known as a place where you establish community via conversation & relationship. having one person w/ a laptop sitting at a table for four persons limits the number of potential up-close-and-personal relational interations.

the financial issue is also on the radar. one cup of coffee (or whatever beverage is purchased) spread over 3 hours whilst sucking away at electricity and wifi is not a smart business move.

there's a rather large company here in the states that offers "free" wifi at all locations: panera bread company. of course, they serve breads, pastries, salads, soups, sandwiches, in addition to the whole line of tea/coffee/espresso drinks. perhaps that's how they can offer it for free...?

Existential Punk

Adam, i hear what your boss is saying, but my experience in the states is that most local coffee shops and bars, go figure, offer free wifi. Panera Bread is one of the only BIG businesses i know of that offer free wifi. if they are doing it, then i think Starbucks should too. Where do you live? I am in Richmond, VA. Adele

Adam L. Feldman

e.p., there's a relatively "new" coffee shop chain that offers "free" wifi. they're called port city java.

there are several local businesses here in baltimore that offer free wifi (in addition to panera). i can think of a pub, a cigar shop and a tire store (wha--?) off the top of my head. plus, all baltimore city/county libraries offer wifi free-of-charge. the coffee shop where i work is in an older part of town where rooms are really small. to have 2 or 3 tables-for-four taken up over a 2-3 hour period by 1 laptop coffee drinker would quite literally kill the business.

Johannes Kleske

Very interesting points here. It is not always as easy as we may think. I would love to see more coffeeshops with free wifi. They are definitly a reason for me to choose this shop over an other. But I do understand the reasons for not providing one.


I think free WiFi is definitely the way to go - and not in the future, but now. You can go to a Starbucks and have the chess players using the big chairs. That's OK with me. I gave up on Starbucks for other reasons; the biggest one being Panera. More comfortable, more room and free WiFi. When you log on they have an interesting portal that says in essence that you are welcome to stay as long as you like and enjoy it, but please be mindful during busy times and use a smaller space. Win-win. I set up our cable internet at our church with WiFi, and orinted it towards the parking lot so people can duck in for a quick connection. Our parking lot is the last good mobile signal spot befor it drops off close to the river. Why not offer more than what people expect? We already had it, so it seemed like a no-brainer to be kind and share it. WiFi is meant to be free.


Our new cafe offers free wifi anytime... and a great cup of coffee. Thanks for all your helpful thoughts on church and cafe over the past couple years. Great stuff.

Steve, too bad we're in Canada - otherwise, you could hang with us.


steve collins

well we've certainly found out what issue turns the community on!

Craig (mars-hill)

Found this link on best and worst WIFI in the States today:

Now I need one for Malta!


thanks so much for this. I have beemn looking into whether or not wi fi is a viable business on its own...

Larry Sanders

Here’s a good link for a list of free wi-fi spots http://www.openwifispots.com.

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