“Let ‘em come,” Great Basin Brewing Co. Owner Bonda Young said of the wireless Internet users.
Great Basin is one of the seven businesses in Sparks that advertise free Internet access on Yellow-Pages.com.
“We actually like to promote people hanging out,” Young said. “We like to make people think it’s like a home environment and the WiFi contributes to that.”
For less than $100, a business can buy a router and plug it into their Internet connection. If it is set up password-free, the business becomes a portal to the Internet for anyone who has a laptop with wireless capabilities.
Businesses like ClearWire, Sprint, Verizon and T-mobile offer a wireless card that gets you onto the Web wherever they have coverage. This means that you could access the Internet from a parking lot, if you had the right hardware with your computer. Also known as WiMAX, it was designed to serve as a wireless form of metropolitan broadband blanketing hundreds of miles with multi-megabit wireless networking.
ClearWire just announced its entry into the WiMAX market Oct. 17 when it released a wireless card that, for $59.99 per month, claims to get you Internet access anywhere ClearWire offers a signal.
“We broadcast out a signal from one of our locations and the card in your computer receives the signal,” ClearWire general manager Elton Hart said. “It is designed for the PC user who wants a connection everywhere.”
The other wireless service providers offer the same service at different speeds and at different prices. But all teeter around $60 per month and a 700 Kbps connection speed. Road-weary professionals are among the many who attach their laptop computers to wireless networks without the owner’s knowledge. Young is OK with the Web leeches. “If it makes our customers feel good, then that’s what we’re here for,” Young said. The free Internet access becomes a sticking point for customers who usually come in and out quickly, Jib Coffee Shop owner Mike Sorensen said. But Sorensen says those who do stick around need to have a little more coffee shop class.
“People need to understand that they are not in their living rooms, but in someone’s business.” Sorensen said. “I offer it to the 20 percent who use it thoughtfully. The other 80 percent are the people who can suck on a cup of coffee for four hours and never move.”
Coffee shops seem to be the best bet for free Internet access. United Postal Service shops and hotels seem to be the exception to the coffee shop rule.
John Ascuaga’s Nugget offers Internet access as an amenity and charges for the service. “It’s just an amenity and we are one of those properties who choose to charge for it,” Nugget Public Information Officer Michael Traum said.
“There are a lot of hard costs involved here and charging is a way to recover those costs.”
Traum said that many of the larger hotels do not offer free Internet with their rooms. The smaller motel chains, Super 8 on Greg Street and Western Village near the Marina, for example, have wireless connections available even in their parking lots. The Mariott hotel near I-80 and Vista provides free wireless Internet access in their lobbies.
The Nugget provides local area network cables in their rooms that guests can plug into for Internet access. This is also an optional amenity for which guests can choose to pay. Wireless Internet access is planned for the Nugget’s new east tower, but again, the service will be provided for a fee.
None of the libraries in Sparks have wireless Internet access, but according to Sparks Library Manager Julie Machado, “It is coming.”
Machado said that budget cuts have put the installation of wireless Internet in Sparks libraries on the back burner.
“We really don’t have a time table anymore for when it will be here,” Machado said. The Washoe County Library system boiled down their Internet policies into one process in anticipation of a wireless implementation.
“The first step is modifying your policies,” Machado said. “That way, you go into it having free access for all.”
Wireless Internet access in Sparks libraries was sent to the back burner because of budget cuts in the county’s information technology department.
“There are 15 branches in Washoe County,” Machado said. “It is only a matter of time before we get our wireless here.”
The South Valleys branch and the North West libraries are next on the list to have wireless access installed. Curently, the Downtown Reno branch and the Incline Village branch are the only libraries in Washoe County to offer wireless Internet.
Machado painted a visual picture of a person sitting on the library steps with their laptop open.
“You never know how it affects people until you see it in action,” Machado said. “To sit outside and get online while you are waiting for the fireworks on the Fourth of July – that’s what we’re aiming for.”