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Originally published Monday, January 13, 2014 at 9:40 AM

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Listen up, hotels: Every room needs free Wi-Fi

Some expensive hotels still charge for in-room Internet access — and they’re losing goodwill and guests.

Detroit Free Press

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I have often chosen hotels that provide free wi-fi and parking over those that don't. ... MORE
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Really, it makes no sense.

Cheap hotels have free Wi-Fi in the rooms.

Expensive hotels don’t.

It is time that America’s hotels make a resolution for 2014: Stop charging for in-room Internet access.

Why? There are a million reasons, but here are four:

—As technology races ahead, it is archaic not to offer it.

—Hotels that still charge for Wi-Fi seem fuddy-duddy and dated.

—The practice annoys guests and makes them feel ripped off.

—The money hotels make on paid Wi-Fi from a few guests cannot be worth the loss of goodwill by all guests.

Years ago, it made sense for hotels to charge for the Internet. It required wires and techs, passwords and cords. It was fragile as an egg, always breaking down. The equipment was expensive. It was a novelty, an extra, a perk.

Now? Most Americans — including hotel guests, employees and managers — think of Wi-Fi as an invisible, ubiquitous utility like air conditioning or water. Connectivity is part of modern life. A lot of hotels use cloud-based Web services, eliminating the bandwidth burden on individual properties.

Today, many travelers don’t even need the service. They have hot-spot devices to bypass hotel Wi-Fi costs. Most leisure travelers can simply use their cellphones to go online.

So who, exactly, is left to pay for access? I am not sure.

But if I had a big hotel and was charging megabucks for the room, I sure wouldn’t be charging $30 or even $10 a day extra for Internet access.

For 67 percent of travelers, free in-room Wi-Fi is THE most important hotel service they look for when booking, found in a June survey. The magic words travelers seek are “free in-room Wi-Fi” or “complimentary high speed in-room Internet access.”

I’d give it to them, then get guests to part with their money another way, with $10 yoga classes on the beach or $9 vodka martinis.

The industry site this fall reported that while guests rank free Wi-Fi and a comfortable bed as the two most important hotel priorities, a third of U.S. hotels still do not have free Wi-Fi. It created a list of hotels with and without the service.

Right this very moment I am staying in an upscale Hilton resort hotel in south Florida. A few days ago I stayed in another Hilton property, the Hampton Inn. The Hampton wasn’t fancy, but it cost $113 a night and included free Wi-Fi and breakfast. Meanwhile, the beautiful Hilton resort I am now at charges $219 a night — plus $10 a day for self-parking and $9.95 for Wi-Fi, which I need to file my articles from my laptop.

At check-in, I politely asked the clerk about it. She provided a Hilton Honors Wi-Fi password to use for free access. (If you are a member of a hotel loyalty program, you should do the same. Even if you aren’t, ask if they can extend that courtesy to you. It’s worth a try.)

However, the real solution lies with the stodgy hotel industry.

It’s time to enter the 21st century. Drop the Wi-Fi charges, as every other business already has done.

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