Earlier this summer, the Coffee Cat in Scotts Valley discontinued its free WiFi Internet service and there are lots of people not happy about it. On sites such as Yelp.com, Coffee Cat customers are venting, the following blurb being more or less typical of the general outrage.
I am very concerned with the huge mistake this establishment has made. It totally insults me as a costumer and many of my friends. They wont be getting any word of mouth advertising from me, or my friends.
The coffeehouse’s management responded with a carefully worded but perfectly rational letter than read, in part:
We are first and foremost a coffee merchant. Unfortunately, what started as a quirky amenity for a few customers in 1994 has turned into something that has consumed our time and energy out of all proportion to its value to us.
I love free WiFi as much as the next guy. But are coffee merchants obligated to offer a free Internet hook-up with your cup ‘o joe? What exactly is the morality of using free WiFi at a coffee shop? Should you always buy something, even if you just want to check your e-mail and aren’t interested in brewed liquid stimulants? Is there a time limit that you should observe? What’s a businessman supposed to do with a shop full of people taking up tables and nursing cold cups of coffee for hours on end?
There was a time not too long ago when you could plop down just about anywhere in downtown Santa Cruz and find a live WiFi connection, whether it’s offered by a business, or an unsecured private line. Those days appear to be over.
Will technology make WiFi obsolete anyway? Are merchants pulling out the rug from under loyal customers? Or, are too many people muscling in on a free deal and hurting the businesses they claim to be supporting?