Is it really that hard?

Is public wifi going out of style? I often bring my laptop to cafés and coffee shops in downtown Chicago, intending to surf the internet and work. Almost invariably, I discover one of three things:

  1. There is no wifi at the café/coffee shop in question.
  2. There is wifi, in theory, but it’s so insanely slow and dysfunctional as to be unusable. (After spending several minutes trying to get online, I’ll gripe to the server and get a reply like: “Oh yeah, the wifi is terrible here. I’ve asked the manager to look into it.” Of course, it never gets better, even months later.)
  3. Wifi is available, but you’re not “supposed” to use it, because it’s not for customers, or the network belongs to an adjacent shop. (In these cases, the server will give me the password, sometimes scribbled on a ragged scrap of paper, with a conspiratorial whisper: “Don’t tell anyone I gave you this.” I am not making this up.)

Starbucks usually has fast and reliable wifi – but not always. Any other establishment, probably not.

Now, I’m not complaining. Life is good. A dearth of public wifi is very much a First World Problem that I wouldn’t even mention, except that I’m genuinely curious as to why this would be an issue in the bustling downtown of America’s third-largest city.

Seriously, what’s the deal? Is wifi just becoming a thing of the past? Are people so fixated on their phones that they don’t use their laptops for internet browsing or social media anymore, thus obviating the need for wifi?

My observation is that the few places that do offer wifi are often teeming with people on their laptops, suggesting that establishments with crappy or nonexistent wifi are leaving money on the table.

Is the technology really that daunting? Or is there something else going on?

Just askin’…

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