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May 10, 2007

From the "How Much of a Geek am I" File

I intentionally left my luxurious, Tor-paid hotel room a couple of hours early to get to the airport, not because I was paranoid about my flight but because the Richmond International Airport has free wifi, and the wifi at the deluxe hotel was so bad that it was like being on a 28k modem. Maybe.

Man, I am such a dork. On the other hand, the Richmond airport wifi connection is lovely. So there it is.

Also, if such an observation has not been formally codified before, I would like to submit Scalzi's Law of Hotel Internet Connections, which reads thusly:

The more expensive the hotel, the more expensive and/or crappy the Internet connection.


Posted by john at May 10, 2007 08:54 AM

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Steve Buchheit | May 10, 2007 09:10 AM

I've found that to be true as well. I think it has to do with expectations, that is the high-class hotel has to offer wifi, but they don't think anybody will actually use it, so there's not enough pipe to the routers.

But then for our local ISP (beyond crappy), they over spend (and charge us a major premium) and we have crappy through-put. We finally have DSL (just the past few months, we have cable-modems for the past decade, but because the line in my developement is crappy, and they don't want to spend money to replace it or increase signal boosters, I can't get cable modem service even though I live less than 300 yards to the main office).

So I'm looking at enticing another company to bring in a WiMax installation.

Marc Moskowitz | May 10, 2007 09:12 AM

It's totally true. Holiday Inn in Oneonta, NY? Great wifi free with the room. Luxor in Las Vegas? A cord you can pay to get turned on.
I think it's partially that luxury hotels are for tourists and cheap ones are for business travelers.

katre | May 10, 2007 09:20 AM

A few months back we travelled to Boston, stayed at the Westin, which was very, very nice. Our bedroom was larger than my living room at home (okay, so I live in Brooklyn, but it was huge), plus there was a little sitting room next to the bathroom.

Anyway, no wireless, but we had a free internet coupon we used. Got there, tried to use it, didn't work. I called the front desk, and they actually sent up a network tech who disassembled the jack, fixed it, checked the network closet, etc, and then we had wonderful wonderful internet the rest of the weekend.

Maybe their wireless did suck, though, but I don't know.

Tom Brandt | May 10, 2007 09:20 AM

I was on a business trip to San Jose not long ago, and the hotel I stayed in (I have forgotten which one) had no internet access at all. And this was in the center of Silicon Valley. Incredible.

Sean | May 10, 2007 09:26 AM

As it turns out, the economists are already on the case:

"Some guests are willing to pay more than others. That makes for an unpalatable choice: If you charge $100 for a room, you give an unnecessary discount to everyone who would have paid $120. But if you charge $120, you drive all the $100 customers away.

The goal, then, is to use amenities to equalize your customers' willingness to pay. Take a stripped-down example: You've got two customers, Jack and Jill. Jack will pay $100 for a room without net access; Jill will pay $120. That poses a pricing problem. But suppose you happen to know that Jack will also pay an extra $20 for net access, while Jill thinks computers are instruments of the devil. Now the pricing problem is solved: Make net access free. Both customers will pay exactly $120 for the room-plus-net package, and that's what you charge.


The real world is more complicated. You've got more than two customers, and you have only guesses, not certain knowledge, about their willingness to pay. Still, the general lesson holds: If you think you've got a bunch of guests who are avid Internet users but cheapskates when it comes to paying for the room (for example, if there's a science fiction convention in town), you want to make the Internet free. Then you can lure in the cheapskates without lowering the room price very much. But if your Internet users are willing to pay more than everyone else (for example, if there's a Google shareholders' convention in town), then for goodness' sake, sock it to them, charging them the full room rate and adding an Internet fee on top of it."


COD | May 10, 2007 09:33 AM

I stayed at an Embassy Suites in Atlanta last year that had no wifi and wanted $10 per day for ethernet connectivity. I made do on dial up, although I realized too late I was paying 75 cents every time I connected to check email.

I've stayed at several Comfort Inn / Fairfied Inn class hotels with perfectly usable free wifi. In my experience Scalzi's Law of Hotel Internet Connections proves true.

Dan | May 10, 2007 09:44 AM

I've got a corollary: the same applies to breakfast. Cheap hotel? Huge, free continental breakfast that will fill you up for 2/3 of the day. Expensive hotel? That'll be $7.50 for the small grapefruit juice and everything is alacarte.

Jack William Bell | May 10, 2007 09:52 AM

Sorry John. I think Cory Doctorow formulated a similar law some time ago.

It was more than two years ago, at least, but I don't remember exactly when. I do think it was during one of the Davos conferences...

Lou | May 10, 2007 10:47 AM


I'm Taking the wife and kids to a nice hotel to go eat and swim for mother's day.. Guess I'm in for it then.

hal | May 10, 2007 10:47 AM

This is why I always stay at the Super 8.

Stan Taylor | May 10, 2007 10:55 AM

Another consideration, I think, must be expense accounts. At less expensive motels/hotels, many people are either paying their own way, or are with cost-conscious (smaller?) companies.

At expensive (non-touristy) hotels, many (most?) of the guests are on more generous expense accounts. If the company is willing to cough up for a more expensive room, then the additional costs of overpriced food and Internet access are not as much of a concern, either.

That's my theory anyway.

Greg | May 10, 2007 11:23 AM

That is damn near a universal law, but I can see Stan't point: The nicer the hotel, the more likely you aren't paying for it yourself.

kouredios | May 10, 2007 11:33 AM

I don't know. The Super 8 I stayed in a few weekends ago in Binghamton had a crappy wifi. It went out completely for the second half of our stay. OTOH, the room was $50 a night, so I really can't complain. Too much.

Deanna Hoak | May 10, 2007 11:37 AM

You think you're a geek...

It actually occurred to me yesterday to practice my WoW character's orc female dance, because I thought it would be a nifty trick at parties. ;-)

I've resisted...thus far....

Dr. Phil | May 10, 2007 12:28 PM

What kills me about the places which charge so much for Internet access -- If I stay there for a week I want (a) a new router and (b) I want to take said new router home with me. (grin)

Sure, breakfast is expensive. Room service even more so. But in both cases there are employees schlepping stuff around. Exactly how much, in the case of $19.95/day Wi-Fi I found in one hotel, work is involved in connecting my radio waves to your radio waves? How much bandwidth am I consuming? The whole thing is a total ripoff and because the upscale business traveler "isn't really paying for it", it offends the rest of us.

Free airport Wi-Fi in the second tier airports. Great thing. Super expensive Wi-Fi in major hub airports? Die you scummy greedy grasping pig dog thieves! (Apologies to any ordinary pig dogs out there.)

Dr. Phil (spoiled by Academia anyway...)

Mary Lou Klecha | May 10, 2007 12:39 PM

This makes sense to me, because on television when characters are staying in crappy rundown motels (frequently in locales where I would not be surprised if the entire town was running on, at best, a single 28k modem) the wifi always appears to be fast, reliable, and free.

rage | May 10, 2007 01:09 PM

What chafes me about these outrageously priced hotels with their 1/4 star IT offerings is their 1/8 star IT Support staff. It's as if they hired someone to throw in the crappy network on the cheap and leave the service to whoever the provider of connectivity might be. The consierge at the last 4-star hotel I stayed in actually referred me to then SBC, now ATT, for additional support with my very very slow connection. It was all she knew about the IT service being offered to the clients of the establishment for whom she was employed. A service, mind you, that this outfit still bills as a pretty impressive inducement to lure in unsuspecting travellers with laptops tethered to their home offices! I thought she was going to call in an interpreter when I tried to explain my dilemma. The poor thing grew more apoplectic, peppered with empathetic apologies, the longer I went on talking to her the same way I talk my very anti-technical aged mom through sending me email. I eventually wound up using my data phone as an external-USB modem to my laptop for a faster connection for the duration of my stay. I can, however, credit this outfit with one of the most wonderful breakfast buffets I've personally ever experienced. Simply Divinely Delicious!!! My complements to the chef! Maybe the internet just wasn't their niche! Their niche - Buffets at Breakfast!

Annalee Flower Horne | May 10, 2007 01:23 PM

My experience driving cross-country was: Knight's Inn=28$ for two queen beds and free wifi. 78$ a-night hotel in Seattle=you're kidding, right? There's an old, spyware-laden dell in the business center.

But my experience in NI has rather lowered my expectations. There, even the 'free' wifi at Starbuck's requires that you have an account with one of two ISPs. If you do, 'XX free wifi minutes' are part of your internet package. If you don't, 1-3 quid an hour. Ouch.

Nate Von J | May 10, 2007 01:24 PM

It's been my personal belief that the equation More Expensive Hotel = Less customer friendly service applies to all levels of hoteldom, not just the interwebs. Case in point, sure a Holiday Inn or a Best Western isn't a typical persons idea of a grand stay, but at least you get things like a complementary breakfast, swimming pool and weight room. Whereas the hotel I've had to go to every year for a nerd-specific con purpose, while an extremely fancy hotel with bellhops and everything, has about 10 television channels, no discernable free breakfast, and nothing resembling a swimming pool or a weight room. You do the math.

P.S. as a slight ammendment to this post the hotel in question did have an excellent food court, but it's just not the same.

Brian Greenberg | May 10, 2007 02:15 PM

I do quite a bit of professional travel (which, I guess, makes me one of those evil, upscale business travelers that offends everyone - sorry 'bout that). Anyway, here's another theory:

Motel 6 is one or two floors tall, and often quite a distance from major commmerce. If they put a decently strong router behind the front desk, it probably provides a strong signal to every room.

The nicer hotels are typically high rises and in the middle of major cities with all sorts of other radio waves swirling around. If you've got 10-15 floors of concrete and steel between you and the router, you're likely to get a weaker signal.

Personally, the nicer hotels I've stayed in have offerred wired internet access (ethernet port/cable in the room), which I always assumed was due to the problem I'm describing.

Pricing, on the other hand, is a separate issue. I totally agree with the comments above, which basically say "supply and demand rule the world - deal with it." That's true for everything from the minibar costs to the room rate to the cost to make a local telephone call (at least before everyone had cell phones).

Chris Adams | May 10, 2007 02:38 PM

If you think it's bad as a customer, imagine running a free wireless network for conference. The degree to which a hotel's "IT" staff can be in complete denial about the state of their internet connection when surrounded by angry users was stunning - and in both cases, multiple years running, we had to get the general manager to explain in person that they should disconnect their $50 Linksys box so we could replace it with something which actually works.

Madeline F | May 10, 2007 03:21 PM

I haven't had much luck getting decent internet anywhere. Airports have backscratching gouging deals with lameass telcos; truck stops are like "be glad we gave you that 2 x 4 to prop up the sink"; ritzy hotels are like "OH HAI U GIV US $15 4 DAILUP"...

I guess I should try the mid-range cheap places like Best Western.

Baffling! It's like "What, you need air when you travel?"

Byron | May 10, 2007 03:45 PM

I think it's mostly a case of early adopter status coming back to haunt the hotels. The expensive hotels paid a bunch of money back in the 90s to get on the in-room Internet bandwagon (wireless or wired). A lot of times they chose wired because there just weren't a lot of people with wireless cards. Now WiFi hardware is stupidly cheap and pretty easy to wire up, which is the hardware that cheaper hotels that didn't get in on it early are using.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little | May 10, 2007 04:36 PM

Holiday Inn Express! Free wi-fi at every hotel in the chain! Sometimes two or three SSIDs worth! I stop in their parking lots during road trips to check with maps.google.

Scorpio | May 10, 2007 06:10 PM

Law of Hotels is Very True. Expensive hotels suck at net connections. likely because their phone revenue got so socked by the cell phone.

And after all, they are into milking cash cows.


G. Jules | May 10, 2007 06:11 PM

Absolutely true. (I'm another one of those irritating business travelers.) The wifi thing is a big part of the reason why I stay at Fairfield Inns and Courtyards instead of regular Marriotts. Regular Marriott wifi is eye-gougingly bad, while the Fairfield variety is generally quick and painless.

There is a level of hotel below which you cannot drop, however, if you want net access at all. (I still have flashbacks to the hotel clerk who told me I could access my free high-speed internet... by plugging my computer into the phone line. And using my dial-up account.) Mid-range places geared at business travelers are the best places for reliable, free wifi.

I think another reason why more expensive hotels are more likely to have ethernet is that they got highspeed in their rooms first, before wifi came along and made installation much less expensive, and before net access became a basic need rather than a nice frill. (On the macro-scale, this is supposedly why Maine has nice shiny telecom infrastructure... because we couldn't afford it when it first came out.)

Queenie | May 10, 2007 07:17 PM

Yes. Especially hotels in untourist-crowded spots. And whoever extended this rule to breakfast is right. It does not, however, apply to towels--generally, the nicer the hotel, the cleaner/whiter the towels.

George E. Martin | May 10, 2007 09:21 PM

All the full service Marriotts I've stayed in recently have in room ethernet connection for $9.95 for the 24 hour period of noon to noon. However that price also includes free local and long distance phone calls. So that is not such a bad deal if you are traveling on business and need to make phone calls. I have been in a Marriott where there was free wireless in the bar and lobby area even though they were charging for access in the room.

All less than full service Marriotts, Courtyard Fairfield etc, seem to have free Internet access ethernet and/or wireless.

As to quality of service that seems to vary all over the place and seems to depend on the local ISP providing the service.

My experience anway.


gerrymander | May 11, 2007 12:25 PM

Many of the top-tier hotels I've stayed in recently for work have had excellent internet connectivity and very competent IT staffing. Particular high points: The Omni in Philadelphia and the Portland Hilton on 6th.

Lynn | May 11, 2007 02:31 PM

I'll note, that the full spectrum of Holiday Inn offerings have wi-fi, free and almost always pretty good.

Gets me as a customer

Ric Locke | May 13, 2007 01:00 PM

Bah. The Kabelplan for xBaseT was and is designed expressly for compatibility with POTS -- it uses pair 2 and 3 for data (and, nowadays, pair 4 for Power Over Ethernet). That leaves pair 1 completely alone, and an RJ11 plug will go in and lock in an RJ45 jack in such a way as to connect to pair 1. That being the case, the marginal cost of adding wired Ethernet to every hotel room is the additional cost of the cable and routers/switches, which is dwarfed by the cost of pulling the cable(s) in the first place. And it would take a really tiny hotel to get the cost of the service over $10 per room per MONTH.

Wireless is actually more expensive if the system is installed at construction of the building, although it may be cheaper as a retrofit depending on how much conduit/raceway was included in the original design. Wireless is so short-range for a decent connection that it needs a lot of hardware.

All of which is why medium-price places, from Super 8 to Marriott Residence Inn, give you free connectivity. High-class places charge for it because they can get away with it. Whenever you plug in in such places they ought to have a .mp3 playing Gilbert&Sullivan: "Whatever the Traffic will Bear."

I personally, from the standpoint of a quarter-century of business travel, hate and despise city-center and convention-center hotels. No matter who's paying for it, teeny overpriced rooms in the stratosphere, bad overpriced restaurants, itemized per-inhale charges for stale air delivered through dusty ducts, and swarms of "service providers" with their hands out for tips simply offend me, especially when so located (in collusion with the town's real estate agents) as to make alternatives well-nigh impossible.


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