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Free Wi-Fi at All Hyatts Now (With a Catch)

Another hotel brand, Hyatt, has decided it should change the way it approaches Wi-Fi access. Everyone staying at any Hyatt hotel after today can access the Web for free.

But there's a catch. Like many other hotels, Hyatt has figured out a way to monetize "free." In this case, the bandwidth of standard Wi-Fi will not be fast enough for guests to watch videos. A Hyatt representative described the basic speed as "appropriate for general web surfing and email." 

It will not allow guests to entertain themselves with videos or gaming—or download large files within a reasonable time. For that, guests still have to shell out to the "premium tier." (The most expensive Hyatt brands such as Park Hyatt and Andaz will grant faster service automatically.) No numerical promises of megabits per second speed are made at either level. 

The change, increasingly common across the industry, allows the hotel to advertise "free" Wi-Fi—regardless of whether Americans' societal expectation for Wi-Fi actually means the ability to watch streaming content.

It's a bit like a mobile phone carrier telling customers they have "unlimited" data but then throttling the speed of that "unlimited" data once a quota is reached. Both of them are ways for companies to play fast and loose with legal definitions. Yes, the water is free—but you can only have a few drops at a time.

If all you ever want to do is read email without large attachments, disregard any concern with this grey area.