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Gil Laroya Headshot

Since When Did My Free Wi-Fi Become a 'Hotspot?'

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At this point in the technology of wireless devices, we are all familiar with wi-fi; the service that shares an internet connection wirelessly amongst physically disconnected devices. And since the internet is such a vast, open virtual space, it would seem obvious to assume that as long as you can connect, that connection should be free, because there are no wires. But in today's market-driven world, companies have figured out ways to make money in every way way possible, including that "free" wi-fi connection of yours. Because unlike air, wireless internet access has a catch.

In many ways, the internet saw its biggest jump in popularity when it became wirelessly accessible. All of the sudden, all the fun and interesting things that you loved to do online, was now available without that damn CAT5 cable. Like a page out of The Jetsons, you could now walk around the house, lounge by the pool, or go for a walk, all while ordering a pizza or reading a magazine article. You could now communicate with others via text, email and video, watch movies and news, and even look up recipes for that night's dinner, using a portable device. The introduction of wireless internet access meant more than just getting rid of wires -- it burgeoned into its own new technology market that would open doors to advanced smartphones, PDAs, tablets and even portable gaming devices. Wireless technology redefined how end users could now use the internet.

So, just like watching your local TV station, all that a person had to do to get onto the net was setup a wireless device and find a network. Viola, instant internet!

But then some a-hole came up with a bright idea; "if so many people want to get online without wires, why not charge them money for it? I know, lets call it a hotspot!" All of the sudden, smartphone users had to pay an extra "hotspot fee" to use their smartphones to share an internet connection. And that free wi-fi at the local coffee shop - not anymore - now its a hotspot.

What the hell???

The internet is a worldwide network, which is now a worldwide wireless network. Why in the world do I have to pay for sharing my internet connection - a capability that I already paid for when I bought my device or service?

Now don't get me wrong. I understand the costs involved in providing a wireless connection. IP services, server maintenance, wired infrastructure, etc. But at some point where the wires end, I would think it'd be safe to assume that all of that infrastructure is paid for, bandwidth and all. All a wireless connection is doing is taking a wired service and shooting into the air. Okay, maybe its not that simplistic, but for all intents and purposes that is whats going on.

So is it the convenience that we're being charged for? On one hand I can see the logic in charging money for accessing someones network wirelessly. But what if I already have the service and bandwidth (aka my smartphone and cellular web service)? Why do I still have to chalk up cash to share it? Theoretically I've already paid for the device and the connection, right?

Intuition tells me that its more than money at stake here. Its the underlying goal of limiting that precious bandwidth -- the data throughput that can be sustained by a network -- that is driving the hotspot trend. What better, more politically correct way is there to limit valuable internet bandwidth than to charge money for it? Its a win-win situation for service providers -- they keep more bandwidth available, while making money from folks who use more of it. That's the theory anyway.

All I know is that when I close my eyes, I can seriously "feel" the internet flowing all around me.

God forbid the same jerk who came up with the wireless hotspot figures out a way to charge money for oxygen...

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