Public Wireless Netiquette

I'm currently sitting in the Green Mesquite sipping on an ice tea. I've got three hours until my next appointment. Rather than go back home to work, I'm going to stay downtown. I can do that thanks to ubiquitous free public wireless.

I've been thinking there should be some code of etiquette for using free wireless. A lot of businesses are taking a risk by making it available. If wireless access is abused or starts becoming a burden, they will quickly pull the plug.

Here are the guidelines I tend to follow, to try to be a good wireless citizen.

  • Avoid peak hours. The venue is making money on the drink I'm sipping, but they'd make even more money if they could serve somebody lunch at the table I'm occupying. Last Friday morning I was at Quack's 43rd Street Bakery, eating a coffee roll and doing some work. As lunchtime neared it started filling up. That was my cue to hit the road.
  • Tip a little more. If I stay somewhere for a while I'll tip a couple of extra bucks. I feel like I ought to compensate them a bit more, particularly if there is table service. I'm concerned that free wireless users might be perceived as freeloaders. Extra tipping may dispel that.
  • Limit my time. I won't stay at one place all afternoon. I'm not sure an extra cup of coffee and couple bucks tip is sufficient compenstation for monopolizing a table. Plus, since wireless is so readily available, it's easy enough to pick up stakes and move elsewhere. After about two hours, I'll move along.

I suspect many wireless users take care to use the resource courteously. Like all Internet facilities, a form of netiquette will evolve. We probably ought to make some effort to document and publicize it.


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re: Public Wireless Netiquette

Chip, I am walking distance from Quack's. You should have stopped by. If it makes you feel any better, many of the denizens at Quack's seem to camp out there all day.

As to etiquette evolving, I'm not so sanguine. We still haven't gotten the etiquette for cellphones worked out, and I think the jury's still out on landline phones, for that matter.

re: Public Wireless Netiquette

I agree with your comments. I'm pretty aware that wherever I am they would prefer my cash to me being just another pretty face sitting there in front of my computer. Thanks for the notes, I'll pass 'em along

re: Public Wireless Netiquette

Good call. I'd add the following:

Don't recharge your laptop by plugging it in somewhere that causes wait staff and patrons to trip over your cord every time they walk by.

re: Public Wireless Netiquette

My daily coffee pusher, Pacha, has intentionally foregone wireless even though they've got customers volunteering to pay for it themselves. When I look at the students writing entire term papers over one bottomless cup of coffee at some other Austin coffeeshops, I can't say I blame them.

re: Public Wireless Netiquette

Prentiss raises a point that I thought of when I first read this. Wireless etiquette is good and all, but how different is camping out in a coffeeshop and using the computer from just camping out in a coffeeshop and reading a book, something college kids and would-be poets have done for ages. I remember reading a story in Newsweek when I was in high school back in the early nineties that related how coffeeshops in Berkeley were limiting the amount of time customers could use a table without buying another item. I remember a student quoted saying something like, "Are they going to put chalk marks on us like the metermaids?"On the other hand, some of the employees at the Little City on the Drag will only charge me for a refill if they saw me come in earlier that day, so some coffeeshops go as far as encouraging "camping."

re: Public Wireless Netiquette

Pleased to meet you Chip. I agree with your ettiquite and therefore have chosen Mozarts as my WiFi campout because of it's large capacity and scenery.

The cell phone comment reminded me of a David Cross skit where someone in the audience had their phone go off toward the beginning and he told them,