Europe gets overpriced Wi-Fi, while free hotspots thrive in the US

Here’s another reason for the growing Wi-Fi digital divide (Europe versus US). While more cafes in the US are offering free Wi-Fi, Europe gets companies such as Orange (a French mobile operator) charging 30 EUR per day. This is not unusual. Wi-Fi in Europe is deployed by the big guys, charging big fees. I think they want to ensure thatHere’s another reason for the growing Wi-Fi digital divide (Europe versus US). While more cafes in the US are offering free Wi-Fi, Europe gets companies such as Orange (a French mobile operator) charging 30 EUR per day. This is not unusual. Wi-Fi in Europe is deployed by the big guys, charging big fees. I think they want to ensure that Wi-Fi never ever competes with their slow, expensive 3G data service. If there’s one way to kill Wi-Fi, this is it: deploy it in lots of locations and charge customers giant fees.

I have seen very few people in European cities using Wi-Fi in part because the service is hideously expensive and bad (just do a search on Swisscom Eurospot on the Muniwireless home page). Swisscom is a company whose dreadful service has been immortalized in fiction by Cory Doctorow. The other reason for low Wi-Fi usage is that laptops and Wi-Fi enabled PDAs, like most computer hardware, are more expensive in Europe. You’ll have to thank the manufacturers for this. US hardware manufacturers have not abandoned their tradition of charging Europeans hundreds of dollars more for hardware than Americans. The governments do their part to keep prices high. Although European government officials love to talk about bridging the digital divide and encouraging tech innovation, they levy 20% VAT on just about everything except bread (sacred, that one). Then they funnel the money into massive agricultural subsidies and useless projects run by their cronies (actually this happens everywhere in the world, not just in Europe).

Meanwhile in Seattle, Glenn Fleishman writes that the free Wi-Fi cafe scene is thriving. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area right now and it’s just amazing how many cafes have free Wi-Fi, just like in Austin, Texas and New York. When I am going from one meeting to another and have extra time, I can check my emails, call people using Skype (by the way, you can use it now to call landlines and mobile phones).

When I go back to Amsterdam, all I have in our neighborhood (the center of the city) is a dark Wolvenstraat cafe/restaurant with a paid-for KPN hotspot. I have rarely seen anyone using it and I don’t use it out of principle.

Comments

  1. Muniwireless says

    Update on free Wi-Fi in Amsterdam: Peter Kentie, who runs a terrific blog on Wi-Fi (www. hotspot.nl, in Dutch) writes that the American Book Center, one of my favorite bookstores, is offering free Wi-Fi. This is definitely a wonderful development.

  2. Esme,

    Remember- we used Wolvenstraat a lot when it was free from Hubhop! I bought a lot of coffee and lunch there during that time.

  3. The problem with Europe’s Wi-Fi scene is exacerbated by the ludicrous pricing schemes of the broadband providers over here. Most DSL and cable modem accounts now have a monthly cap on usage (at least here in the UK). That’s going to discourage anyone from offering to share their connection, as the cost per Gb once you reach the 1Gb or 2Gb cap is from 3 pounds per Gb on up. Pointless penny-pinching!

  4. I’ve found a few sites listing free Wifi through Europe and have tried to compile them on my blog. There aren’t many compared to the US but there are some. What would you say is the cheapest WiFi provider if you had to pay for one? Boingo seems to be in a lot of places but how does it compare pricewise? Does anyone know?

  5. […] Europe gets overpriced Wi-Fi, while free hotspots thrive in the US (July 2004) […]