How odd that you need a credit card to access free WiFi in Minneapolis

US Internet has set up 117 Wi-Fi hotspots around the city of Minneapolis, as part of its contract with the city. Many of the hotspots are in public parks and other locations. US Internet has deployed the largest citywide Wi-Fi network in the United States, and Minneapolis is paying $1.25 million per year for 10 years for its own use of the network.

But here’s an odd thing: the Wi-Fi hotspots provide free Wi-Fi service to anyone who wants it but . . . you need a credit card. Why, might I ask, do you need a credit card to get FREE Wi-Fi service? What about people who don’t have a credit card or forgot their credit card at home or don’t want to use a credit card to access what is essentially a FREE service? This policy of requiring a credit card is needlessly exclusionary and obnoxious. The city is using taxpayer money – all taxpayers, not just those who have credit cards – to enable US Internet to set up the network.

UPDATE 2 July 2010, 10:00 am: I asked Ken Carnesi of Anaptyx, who deployed the large free WiFi hotzone in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts about requiring people to log on using a credit card. Ken says they don’t require any kind of login to their WiFi network and adds that he has never heard of the credit card requirement.


  1. USI Wireless nor the city of Minneapolis wanted to require someone to use a credit card. However it is a federal law and when the FBI personally comes to your office to talk about it, You do what you are told. Does it suck? The answer to that is easy. Absolutly!! So if you dont like write your congressman
    Just going what we are told
    Joe Caldwell
    USI Wireless

  2. Esme Vos says:

    Can you cite to me exactly the federal law that requires you to authenticate people’s identities through a credit card?

    Starbucks does not require me to log in with a credit card. Besides it is totally ineffective against real criminals who will use a stolen credit card to log in.

    Another thing: when the FBI comes to your office to talk, you don’t just bend over and do everything you are told. You seek legal counsel and stand up for your rights. You do have rights but of course if you sit on them and act like a coward, you will lose them. Then we will have a Police State.

  3. A simpler way of doing this is to ask the user to enter their mobile number and click submit. The AAA system then sends out the username/password combination out to the mobile phone as an SMS. This completes the loop of identity management. Somebody would have to steal your mobile and then try to access the internet.
    This form of authentication is being practiced widely in India and Singapore.

  4. Esme Vos says:


    Your way is still too complicated. Some European operators use it but they’ve given up because it just ends up pissing off everyone. The worst thing you can do is to PISS OFF your customers.

    I think USI Wireless is requiring credit card authorization to deter people from using the free WiFi hotspots. They do not want people to use up their precious bandwidth so this is their way of discouraging them. People who have credit cards will be leery of typing in their credit card details; people without credit cards – disproportionately the poor, who the city meant to target with the free WiFi hotspots – won’t even get access.

    USI Wireless is only making their network more attractive to hackers. If hackers know that people are happily typing in their credit card details in the USI network, that’s where they will concentrate their hacking activity.

    If Apple couldn’t protect iTunes users from a nefarious Vietnamese app developer who broke into people’s accounts and charged them for his application, do you think USI Wireless – not exactly the most heavily capitalized, cash-rich business in Minnesota – will put a lot of money into securing their servers?

    Their way of “authenticating” people is absolutely despicable. And I hope NO municipality ever follows their example. Shame on the city of Minneapolis for allowing USI Wireless to engage in these practices.

  5. Interesting how the CEO of USI Wireless [Joe Caldwell] was eager to make an unsolicited comment in the beginning of this thread but has not bothered to comment on the last blogger comments. I agree with Esme Vos, requiring a credit card to log into a network that is “FREE” and paid with taxpayer money is wrong and unethical. It is no different than the auto insurance company red lining practices. The citizens who reside in Minnesota should be yelling foul play, but unfortunately many have fallen asleep and too easily given up their rights, or are not educated enough regarding them.

  6. I haven’t checked on this but nothing in CALEA states that you need a credit card. Please point out what federal law requires this.

  7. Esme,
    You stated that the city is using taxpayer money to enable US Internet to setup the network, however the city’s own website states that taxpayer dollars are not used:

    If the network was a publicly owned / taxpayer funded network I could understand the argument, but it doesn’t appear to be. Can you clarify?

  8. The city is paying $1.25 million every year for use of the US Internet network. Without the city’s initial commitment as US Internet’s anchor tenant and the city’s continued use of the network (and payment to US Internet), the ISP could never have deployed that network citywide. That is what I mean by the city using taxpayer money to enable US Internet to set up the network.

  9. If it’s a surveillance thing, they’ll be recording all the WiFi traffic as well.

    But collections of credit card and mobile numbers sound more like business scams to me – I bet these lists find their way into the hands of marketers, or worse.

    Either way, retaining credit card numbers online is risky.

  10. I thought the same thing, until I found out they use that information to limit the usage that individuals are allowed. This would be to prevent freeloaders that live in the free wifi zones (such as myself).