Free Wi-Fi? Why, Fine!

Hungry for a little holiday cheer? All three of the country's leading search engines are giving you wireless connectivity this season. You just need to know where to look to tap into your presents.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) is teaming up with airport and hotel mobile-ad network JiWire, offering free online access in exchange for a single search on Microsoft's Bing.

Not to be outdone, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is footing the bill to provide free Wi-Fi at 47 of the country's busiest airports between now and Jan. 15.

Even Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) is getting into the spirit of things, rolling out a free hotspot in New York City's Times Square. The freebie cloud will remain in place for a year.

All three companies have the same reason behind their seemingly generous gestures: They all want to be your source for lucrative search-engine queries. However, the move also goes a long way toward devaluing connectivity.

When the FCC was championing the push for free connectivity for all last year, I took a look at the likely winners and losers. I went beyond the obvious choices of access providers like Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) as losers, and website operators as winners. I singled out GameStop (NYSE: GME  ) as a loser, because wider connectivity would hasten diehard gamers' migration from disc-based retail purchases to digital delivery. I also picked Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI  ) as a winner, given the accessory specialist's webcams and Internet headsets.

For now, the cheapening Wi-Fi movement has more casual implications. Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) has already relaxed its in-store connectivity loops. Hotel operators that charge a king's ransom for access may have no choice but to come down or partner with a subsidizing search engine.

Connectivity just keeps getting cheaper and easier. It's a great thing for us as consumers, but it's feast or famine for us as investors.

Will we ever have coast-to-coast connectivity for free? Post your thoughts in the comment box below.

Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. GameStop and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Logitech is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Logitech and Microsoft are Motley Fool Options picks. The Fool owns shares of Logitech and Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz sees strange shapes in the clouds, but not in cloud computing. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2009, at 8:10 PM, minnjim1 wrote:

    If we do get free wifi coast-to-coast, I don't think it will last. Just look at radio and TV. Once upon a time, they were free. But they were in such demand that companies found ways to make money selling them -- think Sirius satellite radio, satellite dish TV, and cable TV. So I think companies will find ways to sell broadband connectivity, because the demand will be so great, and there will be so much money to be made.

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