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TinotopiaLog → More on the hazards of ‘free’ networking (30 Sep 2004)
Thursday 30 September 2004

More on the hazards of ‘free’ networking

Just as I write about my recent bad experience at Panera with a non-working wireless network, others have been getting exposure lately complaining about overly-stringent filtering of free wireless networks, including that at Panera.

As it happens, earlier this month I ran into this very problem at Panera Bread in Webster Groves, MO — scant miles from Panera HQ in beautiful Richmond Heights.

I was going through my regular list of weblogs (which I read via the excellent NetNewsWire), and all of a sudden I was confronted with a page telling me that something I was trying to read was pornography. The site? Tightly Wound, a weblog about education. The current top entry is titled ‘I wanna work for the History Channel.’ Porn, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t know whether it’s the title (certainly anything ‘tight’ on INTARNET must be porn! say the censors) or the ‘woman’ in the domain name that pulled the trigger. (The ‘big arm woman’ is so because of ‘judicious overuse of the hammer of Righteous Smiting’.)

Techdirt points out:

While it is annoying for some — and there should be an easy way to point out that a site shouldn’t be blocked, they are still providing the service for free, so there’s only so much people can do.

Thus further bolstering my claim that ‘free’ goods are fraught with trouble.

Posted by tino at 12:01 30.09.04
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While I understand your point. You also in effect buy the free service by agreeing to use it with any and all limitations that come with it. So if you choose to use Panera’s network you get the filters in exchange for free access that will accomplish 80% of what you want.

Posted by: Paul Johnson at September 30, 2004 08:45 AM

This is the problem; the free service semi-sucks, but the non-sucky non-free service is priced far in excess of its utility to most people. Panera’s filtering and poor maintenance of their network causes its value to drop to the point where I’m willing to pay for a reliable, non-filtered alternative: but there’s a big hole in the market between ‘free’ and ‘too expensive’ where nobody is operating.

As someone else has pointed out in a comment to another recent entry, since the Reston Panera is located in the lobby of the Reston Hyatt hotel, you actually have access to two wireless networks there — Panera’s free one and Hyatt’s $10-for-24-hours one.

$10 for 24 hours isn’t too steep, but I’m not going to spend 24 hours sitting in Panera drinking iced tea. For a casual user (i.e. Tino) hanging out at Panera or in the hotel lobby, this becomes $10 for, say, two hours, which is way too expensive.

$1 for two hours — slightly more expensive that $10 for 24, to offset the higher transaction costs of short-term users — would be attractive, but the Hyatt network people don’t seem interested in offering this. As this is a relatively young industry, I think that any of these people haven’t really done the analysis to determine what their business models should be. And I fear that these decisions are being made by people who have no idea how people would typically use the service, and who therefore can’t even see, much less resolve, the problems with their current schemes.

Posted by: Tino at September 30, 2004 10:45 AM

Wouldn’t your own private home based proxy work well here? By filtering out ads you would also effectively increase your bandwidth.

Posted by: steel at September 30, 2004 10:59 PM

The problem is that my home network connection is highly asymmetrical; a proxy server here would be seriously limited by the upstream bandwidth available, which isn’t all that much.

I do have a proxy server on tinotopia.com for just this purpose — but guess what else is blocked by Panera’s stupid SonicWall filter? I’m going to have to up the ante and encrypt all the traffic between lapzilla and the proxy for use at Panera.

Posted by: Tino at October 1, 2004 11:29 AM