The Massport authority voted to keep Wi-Fi free at Boston's Logan Airport: Following several weeks of Google-sponsored free Wi-Fi, the transportation authority is going to eat the cost of funding its provider to keep no-cost Internet access at Logan International Airport.
Logan joins a small number of the country's busiest airports that offer free Wi-Fi, with Denver in the lead. Seattle-Tacoma (Seatac) decided to go free this year following Google's winter promotion, and Atlanta is looking into the costs of dropping fees. Slightly smaller airports are much more likely to have no-cost Wi-Fi, including Portland (Oregon), Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Sacramento.
Logan's Wi-Fi sessions sextupled during the Google-underwritten period, no surprise to those of us who have followed the fee/free debate for years. The Logan vote will cover two years of free service.
Many dozens of airports still charge for service, the vast majority with service from Boingo Wireless, and a smaller number run by AT&T and T-Mobile. I would never have suspect the race to free up service in big airports, because reports are clear that it's a revenue-positive business, and there's a captive audience.
However, just like hotels saw a total erosion of long-distance revenue when people started carrying cell phones with good roaming and included-minutes plans, so, too, may airports be watching the 3G writing on the wall. If you've got an iPhone, a BlackBerry, a Nexus One, or a laptop with a 3G card, you're not paying the airport for usage. Providing free service may allow an airport to appear to be an amenity provider, sweep in good will from those who have no 3G service, and be a distraction during long waits.
I confess to being surprised to see this trend continue. A captive audience is usually held as somewhat price insensitive, but 3G seems to have tilted that balance quite a bit.
A large increase in use needs to be accompanied by a large increase in Internet backhaul, and I'm curious if any regular Boston travelers have noticed a difference.
Those with moderately good recall will remember Massport as the originator of a multi-year FCC action against Continental, which had the temerity to allow free Internet service within its paid member lounges. Massport made piles of specious arguments, which boiled down to, "it's our property, darn it!" The FCC smacked down Massport way back in November 2006 (see "FCC Smacks Down Boston-Logan's Dubious Wi-Fi Claims"), dismissing all the arguments. The FCC is the sole entity that gets to decide proper use of spectrum in the US.