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Finding the Free Internet

Internet is expensive. Comcast will give you a promotional rate of $20/month for their High Speed Internet for six months and then jack up the price to an uncomfortable $45/month until the end of time. While $45 isn’t really that much, you want to cut down on costs whenever you can, especially with enormous mortgage payments looming every month. It’s also a lot when you consider, of the 168 hours in a week, at a bare minimum 45 are spent at work (or traveling), probably 56 is spent sleeping (8 hour nights may be optimistic) , leaving 72 possible hours. If I spent half of my waking, non-working time glued to the internet… that’s $1.25 an hour (not that expensive right?). Or I could use free internet…

My last month of living in my friend’s basement without a high speed internet line (I’ve been sparingly borrowing wireless from a neighbor, sorry!), I’ve learned I don’t need internet as much as I thought I did. I do like the occasional checking of news, my site performance, comments, etc; but for the most part I think I check those things for about five minutes after around dinner and before bed. So where can I find free internet?

Panera Bread:
It seems like a lot of effort to go to a Panera just to get free internet (use their store locator [3], not every one has free WiFi), but if you can’t study at home or otherwise need to go somewhere else – a Panera is a convenient place to go. I’ve never personally used it but according to many the WiFi is pretty good there.

Local Library:
I like going to libraries, reading some magazines, checking out some books, and, of course, most have open computers with access to the web. Near my friend’s house, no more than two hundred feet, is an annex of the Howard County library with about thirty PCs. This place is no bigger than say the size of an elementary school gymnasium but they manage to pack in all those computers (which double as stations on which to search their books) into such a tiny place. Plus, they have DVDs you can rent too (in Prince George’s County, you had to pay $2 to rent a DVD!).

This site has lists of free wireless hotspots [4] and has pretty comprehensive lists for of places with free wifi such as airports [5], hotels [6], RV parks and campgrounds [7], and even vacation rental properties [8]. They also have a list by state and a list of chains, like Panera, that offer free wireless and who themselves span multiple states. In Columbia, MD, they list three sites – the Panera and two libraries in the Howard County library network. I don’t know how “fresh” the lists are but they have a blog [9] and it seems regularly updated. Oh, the site also doesn’t distinctly identify sites as being friendly to piggy backers or if they just happen to be happily running an open network and don’t know any better.

JiWire [10] is a wifi hotspot search engine of sorts that lists all the report wifi hotspots, indicating how many providers there are and whether or not it’s free.

T-Mobile HotSpots
T-Mobile Hotspots are wireless access points that you need to pay for, it’s what you’ll find in a Starbucks and many hotels. This, of course, costs some money but they offer a free day pass [11] and service per-minute fees are about ten cents (or you can pay a flat monthly fee).

New Resource: MetroFreeWifi.com
I just saw this recently, a site called MetroFreeWifi.com [12] that is essentially providing the same information as WifiFreespot.com but appears more up to date. It also has news articles about companies providing wifi and the interface is designed better.

I might not get Internet in my new house depending on how close the library is (it doesn’t look particularly far) and every little bit counts.