Houston Airport Lagging Behind on Wi-Fi

Last week, Chicago O'Hare joined a growing number of airports across the country that offer free unlimited wi-fi to travelers. But George Bush Intercontinental is stubbornly sticking with a 45-minute time limit.

In 2007, the airport brokered a multimillion-dollar deal with Boingo, the biggest public wi-fi provider in the world. The contract gives each of them 50 percent of revenue from advertisements and wi-fi purchases. Passengers can log onto an ad-supported 45-minute free session or pay for more time.

Unfortunately for Houston, Zach Sterngold, Vice-President of Boingo, told Hair Balls he doesn't think the city's airports will start offering unlimited wi-fi free of charge anytime soon. That would require millions of dollars in new technology, equipped to handle demand for bandwidth that's increased 20-fold in the last two years. Tablets and smart phones would add to the problem by eating up bandwidth constantly, even when they're not in use.

Meanwhile, many passengers are frustrated with the airport's Internet service and stingy attitude. A businessman named Jim waiting for his flight said, "It's silly this airport doesn't have free wi-fi yet. Everybody needs it." A pilot I talked to later agreed, "especially considering all the delays and weather. A lot of smaller airports have free wi-fi."

To get a free session, you have to download the Boingo software, set up an account, provide your credit card info and watch a 15- to 30-second ad, which seems like a lot of work for 45 minutes of Internet. That process would take my dad literally hours. (Editor note: Sterngold tells Hair Balls there is no credit card or software download required, but our writer did not discover another option during his writing of this story and calls to IAH have not been returned.)

Then, once your time runs out, they don't have hourly rates, so you have to pay $7.95 for a full day or $9.95 for a month to stay online. Fortunately, you can use some of that extra time at any of Boingo's 500,000 hotspots around the world.

There are a lot of theories on the Web about how to get past the Boingo time limit. Some say you can use a different browser or clear your cookies to restart a 45-minute session, but those didn't work for me. Two years ago, MotherBoard reported that adding ".jpg" at the end of a URL gets the page to load without jumping through any of Boingo's hoops. I didn't try that, but I imagine they've closed the loophole since.

So there isn't a lot of hope here for an upgrade in service, but before we feel too entitled, it's good to remember that a few years ago you would have sounded like an ungrateful ass to complain that your complimentary wi-fi only lasted 45 minutes. As Louis CK said on Conan, "How quickly does the world owe you something you only knew existed ten seconds ago?"

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