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Wi-Fi Use
A survey of 2,253 adults by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows:
56 percent of adults access the Internet by wireless means
39 percent access Wi-Fi with a laptop computer
32 percent use a smartphone to do so
19 percent of Americans use the Internet on a mobile device daily
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Edward Kim gets down to work at Mocha Lounge on Covington Road, which sometimes sees its free Wi-Fi abused.

Great Wi-Fi expectations

Establishments tolerate a little freeloading to keep customers happy

Kelly Lary works on multiple platforms at Mocha Lounge.

They are Wi-Fi freeloaders.

People who take advantage of businesses offering free wireless Internet are on the prowl. What’s the big deal, you say; just kick them out. Well, it’s not that simple if you’re a small business trying to foster goodwill – and profits.

“We don’t get rid of them,” said Brian Till, owner of Mocha Lounge, at 6312 Covington Road. “We have some people who actually come in with Starbuck cups but don’t buy anything. It is annoying, but we don’t want to run off a potential customer.”

Till said the abuse isn’t rampant, but “it is a bit irritating.” After all, these folks are taking away parking and table space from paying customers.

“You just kind of have to grin and bear it,” Till said.

But maybe not for too long if the federal government has its way. In February, the Washington Post reported on a proposal by regulators who want to provide for the creation of “super Wi-Fi networks” that would mean free Internet access to most Americans.

The proposal would require television stations and other broadcasters to sell a portion of airwaves to the government that would be used for public Wi-Fi networks. Technology firms have lauded the proposal, saying it would trigger a boom of new gadgets.

The networks would take many years to launch, even if they win federal approval. Still, wireless industry lobbyists bemoan the idea, because much is at stake in a business sector that generates $178 billion annually.

For now, though, those without Internet access or who enjoy using it in more public places will continue taking advantage of free Wi-Fi hotspots at coffee shops, bookstores, fast-food restaurants and other establishments in northeast Indiana.

Nick Diagostino said he tries not to be a bum when he visits Barnes & Noble – usually weekly to do homework.

“I always try to get lunch or at least a coffee,” the 24-year-old Indiana Tech junior said. “I know some people just come in and hang out to use the free Internet, but I don’t do that.”

Till said those are the kind of customers he appreciates.

“We have (Wi-Fi) here as a service for them, so we want them to use it,” Till said. “I mean, if you’re not buying anything, that means you’re taking up a parking spot or making a paying customer wait for the bathroom. You do have to draw the line somewhere.”

Some Internet users, fearing they may get the boot from a business, have been spotted hanging out in their cars with mobile devices because the reception works from there, a Starbucks employee said.

Nici Nestel manages the downtown Fort Wayne Starbucks. She said shooing potential patrons away “isn’t really a problem here because they usually buy something.”

Todor Cooklev, director of the IPFW Wireless Technology Center, said we are in the midst of a Wi-Fi revolution.

“The world is a Wi-Fi zone,” he said. “There are people that will go to a McDonald’s and spend long hours there. People are generally annoyed if they have to pay for Wi-Fi. It is like being asked to pay for a cup of water. This type of behavior is going to continue because people are starting to expect not to have to pay for it.”

Officials at Kroger Marketplace at Coventry are OK with that mindset.

“They are our guests, and we want them to use it,” manager Dick Van Horn said. The store has a café area with free Wi-Fi.

“I see them hunched over with their smartphones and (tablets) with all that thumb action going,” he said. “We have kids from the colleges that come here. They like taking their lunch breaks here, and we’re happy to have them.”

Jose Aguilar opened a Mexican restaurant in the Waynedale area late last year. In trying to stand out from the pack, he’s considering video games, flat-screen televisions with cable – and Wi-Fi.

“It’s hard starting out,” Aguilar said. “I’m trying to find out what the people want. I came from Marion, but it is different here. I want to have the Wi-Fi, but I don’t want people just coming in to use it. That’s a problem. I’ll have to play it by ear.”

Source: Pew Research Center; margin of error 2.4 percentage points