Just in time for the holiday weekend, free Wi-Fi takes off at more airports

Wi-Fi in public places can feel more like a Soviet-style ration scheme rather than a basic service like lights or water. Airports are among the worst offenders — high prices for little gasps of internet — but recent shifts in policy and the Wi-Fi business mean change is coming.
Beginning last week, ad tech firm MediaShift unrolled a premium Wi-Fi service to 20 airports, including 4 of the 10 biggest, around the country. The Wi-Fi is free but requires those with laptops to watch a video to access the service; airport users on mobile devices — who make up 47 percent — have to download an app to get the WiFi. Here’s how it might look:
Screen shot of Hotel Tonight airport Wifi
No one will be surprised to learn that ad dollars are behind the effort, but the ad business and what it means for airports is still intriguing. My colleague, Kevin Fitchard, explained to me that the airport shift is part of a larger trend:
“The paid Wi-Fi model is dying, but it still has some last holdouts in areas where customers are trapped, so to speak: Airports, hotels, convention centers, airplanes. But those places are starting to cave.”
And, according to MediaShift President Brendon Kensel, airports are beginning to bring their network-building infrastructure in house rather than outsource it. And, as they earn more ad money, they will have more to invest in faster Wi-Fi. (Similar partnerships are occurring in other airports like those involving JiWire, Boingo and AWG).
The advertising itself is becoming more relevant (or intrusive, depending on your point of view) as companies like MediaShift use retargeting techniques to “see people at the top of the funnel.” In plain English, this means that the ad company works with publishers like Rand McNally and Fodor’s to collect data about your browsing intentions and market to you accordingly.
As always, there’s a creepiness factor here but we suspect most travelers will accept that in exchange for free and powerful Wi-Fi at the airport.
Meanwhile, public WiFi is fast evolving in other spaces like hotels (check out Om’s love-hate relationship with hotel WiFi) and London tube stations and, of course, Google(s goog) is getting in on the action. As for airplanes, here’s why your in-flight WiFi is slow and expensive.