EULA-sive signal: there’s no such thing as a free wi-fi

Like every other person with a laptop, I’m trying to get some work done while I wait for my plane. (real work, not this blog.) That work requires internet access. Like every other traveler who travels infrequently enough to not warrant a wireless broadband card, I’m lamenting having to pay through the nose for the same wi-fi access I can get free with a cup of coffee, or by merely sitting in the park.

The service is provided by Boingo. My choices are $5 for one hour, or $8 for 24 hours. The later would seem a bargain, if you expect to be waiting a while or, like me, will have a layover in Detroit for an hour and a half (see below). But wait! For $9.95* you can get service for a whole month! (* for 3 months, after which it’s $22/month.)

These are called “teaser rates” (yes, like the one on your mortgage) or a form of low-balling. Low-balling is a sales technique where they get you to agree to a low price, so you start to consider the item yours already, then they raise the price, sometimes incrementally, a little at a time. Emotionally you want the item, and you (in your mind) have already made it yours, so a couple bucks more isn’t going to dissuade you from your purchase – you’re a fish on a hook now, and you’re not going to walk away.

This is a typical car dealer tactic – they “cut” the sticker price, for you, ‘cus you’re nice, and they really want to sell it, and you really want to buy it, right? As you sit down to sign the paperwork, the sales person steps out to have a cigarette “talk to his boss,” who unfortunately tells him he “can’t sell it at that price,” but “let’s see what we can do.” Then back out for some coffee to haggle with the boss, on your behalf, and they “come to a compromise” on the price – which is a lot more than you agreed to pay.

Then they start tacking on the “extras,” or stuff you thought came with the car because, you know, it’s on the one you looked at. (“Oh, no, that one sells for the sticker price. The price you agreed to is for a different car – one without a radio.”)

Teasers are not like Leaders, which are sometimes ridiculously low prices, just to get you interested in buying something enough to get you into the store. Because if Leaders are like the price for regular gas (87 octane), then Teasers are Super (89), as compared to Premium (91), or the price of a medium soda at the theater (there is no small, so what’s it in the middle of?) compared to the large. The difference in price is nominal, so since you’ve mentally agreed to the price point, why not get the much better/bigger item? Why buy 16 oz. of crap your body doesn’t want or need (for half the price of the ticket), when “for just .35¢ more” you can have 32 oz? You’re going to get your money’s worth, dammit. (and do the peepee dance all through the third act of the film, because you have a 28 oz. bladder.)

I’m in an airport at most 2 times, every other month – usually much less. (And I usually plan it so I’m waiting less than an hour.) If I wanted unlimited wireless internet access for, say, my phone, it wouldn’t cost me $22/month. This is for the desperate, not those with legitimate need.

But as it’s only $10/month for the first 3, perhaps I can just sign up, then cancel. Canceling should be easy, right?

From the End User License Agreement:

Can I cancel my subscription?

1. Once your order is finalised, you cannot cancel it before the end of the subscription period you have requested, unless our service is not in accordance with this Agreement and that entitles you under normal legal rules to terminate your order.
2. You can prevent your subscription automatically renewing for a further period by notifying us before your present subscription ends in accordance with clause 15.1. [emphasis mine]

So, you have to request a cancellation before the subscription ends, but you’re not actually allowed to cancel it at that time. This, I suspect, is what ropes people into fraudulently-named “free” credit reports and Girls Gone Wild videos. See, you have to make the request in writing. Their address is prominently displayed – at the bottom of the EULA, which you can see while you’re inside any airport they service.

(My plane boarded rather soon after, so all ended up doing was starting to write this post.)

On to the layover in Detroit. After deplaning (and I always hear Hervé Villachaize saying that), I find out my connecting flight is the same friggin’ plane I was just on. Though my stuff is safer with me than alone with the cleaning crew, I’m lugging it around the terminal now. One moving walkway away, I notice the Online Cafe, with people with laptops and little terminals at some of the booths. Perfect – I really do need to touch base with the office.

Ordering [second] breakfast, I’m now a paying customer of the Online Cafe. “I can has free wi-fi nau?” “No, not yours.” It’s $5 for 15 minutes (because who sits and eats longer than that?), but for only a few dollars more you get it for longer than you plan on being there. Fabulous. I’m expensing it, anyway.

(And I really did appreciate the waitress, very discreetly at the top of her lungs, announcing my login and password to the rest of the terminal. I’m the only one authorized to use it, so it’s safe.)

Published in: on October 24, 2008 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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