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Unplugged But Not Unwired

It's getting harder than ever to disconnect yourself from the Internet.

Case in point: When my wife and I drove out to West Virginia's Canaan Valley for a couple of days of skiing this weekend. We fully expected to be cut off from our usual means of communication. (Given the amount of time I spend on the phone and online for my job, that's not a bad thing.)

And the experience almost lived up to that promise. Katie's cell phone had no signal at all. Mine never got above two bars' worth and usually dropped a call after the first minute. It also had no data access at all, thanks to whatever voice-only roaming deal Verizon had worked out with another carrier. Further, the room at the bed-and-breakfast we stayed included neither a phone nor a TV nor a radio; to watch a movie after dinner Saturday, we had to bring my wife's laptop. Even our car's radio struggled to lock in more than a handful of FM stations.

Our temporary abode did, however, feature free wireless Internet. So, although we couldn't get the weather forecast off the air, we had no trouble reading it off the Web. Even more shocking, this worked on the first try--unlike what I've seen at far more expensive hotels where I had to pay extra for the WiFi.

What's the least likely place you've found a wireless Internet connection?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 5, 2007; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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Granted this was back in 2000, but when I encountered free WiFi in a McDonalds in Hong Kong - that was pretty impressive.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 5, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

My wife and i were visiting Europe last winter. We were in Paris about to take the Train to Nice but found out that 1)we needed reservation and 2)everything was booked the next couple of days.

We decided to change our destination from Nice to Barcelona but the next train was not until later in the evening. To kill some time we went to the Louvre museum. Once we got there, i found this cafe which was offering wifi. i was able to change my hotel reservation via the web without going through the usual travel agent.

also gave me opportunity to check email and get latest news from Wash. Post.

we felt like we were back to civilization after being away from the net for several days.

Posted by: G in Texas | March 5, 2007 1:34 PM | Report abuse

There is a small drug store in an absolutely non-hip neighborhood in Portland, Oregon that has free wifi. They still have a lunch counter, the place is kind of dingy and the customers I've seen there are middle aged and older and often there to pay their utility bills in cash - not a prosperous group. Maybe the drug store is trying to attract new customers?

Posted by: Henry | March 5, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Also out in Canaan Valley, Whitegrass Cross Country Skiing has free wi-fi, along with old school telemarking, vegetarian-friendly cooking, and a wonderful homey feel! Gotta love it!

Posted by: Eric | March 5, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Several months ago, I drove out to Chillicothe, Ohio and pulled into a highway rest stop to catch some shut eye and decided to watch part of a DVD on my laptop. To my surprize, the wi-fi inidcator on my computer came to life and I was able to check my e-mail and the latest news feeds.

This was in a stretch where I didn't see any homes that I could have been snagging a signal from, so I have to believe that it was something the highway department put in.

I have found free wi-fi hotspots in many truck stop parking lots. I presume they are catering to the big rig drivers who use their computers to stay in touch with home and work while on the road. In recent trips it has been about 50/50 on free vs. pay to connect, as I wander around.

Posted by: Jim | March 5, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Forget cell phone service, you're miles from a tower, but the lodge has internet blasting away wirelessly.

Posted by: Kevin | March 5, 2007 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Bocas del Toro, on the Caribbean coast of Panama, has fast WiFi Access all around town.

Posted by: thw2006 | March 5, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

you create your own issue. if you just kept your cell phones turned off you would not have to worry about such foolishness. if you vcannot live a weekend without a cellphone and other electronic paraphernalia, you have a problem and your job isn't a good excuse.

Posted by: Richard | March 5, 2007 11:49 PM | Report abuse

The Hilton Hotel in Khartoum, 1000kbs and free !

Posted by: Keith Davies - Cyprus. | March 6, 2007 12:14 AM | Report abuse

Wierdest place was a walkup in London - tho we don't normally use wireless - the WORST instance of a hotel was the Hilton in Dbrovnik, Croatia. Not only did they charge us $300+ for a night but tacked on ca $25 for limited internet as well. We'd been driving through pouring rain along the coast all day - so we took it. Got on line - re-booked for about $150 a night for the next two at the same place in the same room (w/o refund of course)! You'd THINK a place like the Hilton would be more in tune than that! Charging for internet? At the Hilton?

Posted by: Robby | March 6, 2007 3:18 AM | Report abuse

The little town of Bland, VA is a free wireless zone. The entire county has less than 7,000 people.

Posted by: John Dodson | March 6, 2007 6:37 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I do research in the Antarctic. Our research site is usually located on the sea ice, usually 10-20 miles from the nearest base. Because of a repeater system set up in the area, we can get Internet access via wi-fi in our camp. The bandwidth to the outside world isn't very wide, nor particularly fast, but it is astonishing that we can get the access at all.

Posted by: K | March 6, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

K, you win the prize! I don't see how anybody can top that, at least unless somebody chimes in from the International Space Station.

Also, I can definitely second Eric's recommendation for the Whitegrass Cafe in Canaan. That place is great! (Would that I'd had an extra day in the valley, I would have taken my cross-country skis out on their trails.... sigh.)

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | March 6, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

WiFi in a campground on the Mohawk Trail near Charlemont, MA. We had no cell phone access but we were connected to the web from our tent.

Posted by: Fred | March 6, 2007 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Last year (January 2006) my wife and I rented a "cabaña" (small vacation apartment) in Valdivia, Chile. We were amazed to find that we had wifi access, thanks to a hub the apartment owner had in his house, next door.
PS: this year, in Sucre, Bolivia, we had to resort to buying "Wifi" service from Entel, the local telephone company. You should see the antenna they set up on the balcony of our apartment here!

Posted by: Don | March 6, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

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