Free WiFi Comments for the New York Times

Thursday, April 21, 2005


An entrance ramp to the MoPac Expressway in Austin.

Last weekend a reporter for the New York Times sent to me a few questions related to an article about free wifi hotspots. (Because, if you don’t know, I have rather complete lists for several US cities.) They haven’t run the article yet, but I figured I would post my complete responses here… Because I doubt they’ll put each glistening flake of my refulgent commentary in the Times. So here we are.

By the way: I wrote my responses rather quickly, so I’ve corrected a few of the more egregious spelling and grammatical errors. I’ve also slightly modified the questions &mdash not to change their content, but just to make them more succinct.

Q: Why do you post free wireless spots and when did you start?

A: In 2001 I got a new iBook and it had one of Apple’s Airport wireless cards installed. I noticed a few coffee shops around town and the University of Texas offered wifi service, but I couldn’t find a comprehensive listing of any sort. So. Using my skills as a professional web developer, I decided to start my own list. And rather than having to add all of the hotspots on my own, I designed the list so users could add listing on their own.. I began to add listings for cities other than Austin because it seemed like a useful service. When I travel, I use my own list to find places to get free internet access. So far it’s been a huge success, I think.

Q: Tell me about your site.

A: Well, is a personal site. Right now it’s got a blog and links to purely personal stuff such as info about music I perform, travel photographs, and such. When I first started keeping a list of wifi hotspots, I didn’t imagine it would grow to be such a popular part of the site, so I just stuck the list at So many people have linked to that URL, now, that I’m hesitant to move it elsewhere, but it does do good things to my overall site traffic. But, to summarize, the wireless hotspot list is just the most popular part of an otherwise personal website. Based on the success of the wifi list, though, I have been developing some new community-oriented tools, though, which I will hopefully launch this month.

Q: Would you consider yrself kind of a Robin Hood of wireless access, or are yr motives more pragmatic?

A: My motives are pragmatic in that I want to know where I can go to get good wifi service. But I do receive a regular stream of e-mails from people who find my site helpful and businesses that appreciate the free advertising, so it’s also a community service. But: As someone who prefers independent coffee shops, I’m happy that Starbucks stupidly charges users for something that should be free &mdash that way I get to direct people to the cooler places. $15/hr for wifi at Starbucks? That’s just silly &mdash especially when it’s free nearly everywhere else (in Austin, at least).

Q: As far as you know, are there any hand-held devices you could use to walk down the street and check businesses, private residences, etc, that have wireless access, and whether they’re locked by a password?

A: Hm. I don’t have any personal experience with any devices like that, but Engadget has a brief report on them available at:

Q: Would you post someone’s private residence? Say, a home’s access you could jump on by parking outside the house?

A: I don’t post private residences and I remove them if someone else does. But this doesn’t really come up very often. I want to provide a list of comfortable, high-quality sites. Sitting in your car with a computer on your lap in someone’s apartment parking lot getting a weak signal doesn’t count, even though it technically counts as a free wireless internet hotspot.

Q: What is your opinion of wireless pirates?

A: If you’re using the wifi service of the person in the apartment next to yours without impacting their service, I can’t see the problem. But if someone explicitly doesn’t want you sucking on their bandwidth, you should obey their wishes. As with many things in life, if you’re piggy-backing off of someone else’s service, you should be polite and respectful. If someone wants to sit in my front yard and use my service &mdash that’s fine, as long as it doesn’t cause me problems.

How much is too much?

Posted Wed, May 11, 2005, 6:29am EST by helloweb

I just found a new wifi server that reaches my apartment and I've been using it for free for the past few days. I want to know, with regard to what you said about sucking on bandwidth and needing to be polite and respectful, how much can a polite and respectful moocher do online without perturbing his unwitting host?

"polite and respectful moocher"

Posted Mon, May 23, 2005, 4:36am EST by Brian McNally

Simple Browsing OK - Video Streaming - Not OK. :-)

Mac Mini the Moocher

Posted Mon, May 23, 2005, 7:08am EST by Josh

Yeah, if you're doing something that slows down browsing in a seperate window (video streaming, downloading huge files via FTP, or whatever), you're probably being rude...

Petition to Wifi all of NYC

Posted Wed, July 6, 2005, 11:00am EST by Micah Sifry

We've started an online petition to demand universal WiFi for New York City by the end of next year: Please help spread the word!

Note about this...

Posted Thu, July 7, 2005, 5:57pm EST by Josh

I don't think this ever wound up as a part of any article. Unless I've missed something

If you have more questions about the wifi

Posted Fri, December 29, 2006, 10:08pm EST by bob

Hi guys, if you have more questions regarding wifi, or if you are looking for some hardware tips, reviews and prices, about hotspots, antennas, detectors etc... there is wifi portal out there: Go check it out :)

Stumbled Upon

Posted Sat, April 12, 2008, 2:11am EST by Vanessa

I didn't know that such sites existed. Even yesterday came across a widget that claimed to list the hotspots. But it failed to deliver. Your site is definitely helpful.
Vanessa @