I go to a lot of media conferences, where attendees generally expect (or even need) wifi access in the conference areas — for filing or updating stories or blog posts, fast fact-checking, coordinating with editors, participating in chat-based coverage, etc.
Almost invariably, the hotel or conference center has no infrastructure for providing wifi in the conference areas — especially meeting rooms and ballrooms where events on the main agenda are taking place.
What is wrong with the hospitality industry? Yeah, wifi in the lobby is nice — but these days, it’s downright crucial to offer it in the meeting spaces…
At BlogHer 2006, the conference organizers and volunteers went to a lot of trouble to set up wifi in conference areas, since the Hyatt San Jose (yeah, that’s right, in Silicon Valley) offered net access only in guest rooms. The BlogHer folks did their best with a lot of equipment and technical expertise at hand, but the best they could manage for that huge area was sparse and flaky coverage.
Likewise at SPJ 2006 this summer in Chicago, wifi was available only in some of the session areas — and not at all in the building for the sessions I was attending and presenting at!
At Search Engine Strategies: Local Search in Denver last month — with many geeks and media pros in attendance — Denver’s Adam’s Mark Hotel offered no wifi in the meeting areas. The event organizers did arrange for several available ethernet connections in the press room, which helped somewhat but didn’t help me in terms of providing live blogging from the sessions. If I sat near some windows you might snag a wisp of the municipal wifi network along Pearl St. outside the hotel, but the sessions were too jammed to make that feasible in most cases.
Today I learn that, contrary to my initial information, there will be no wifi available at all in the session areas at the SEJ2006 conference this week in Burlington, VT.
Now, SEJ’s conference staff did well to provide a few public-access terminals near the registration table. But if you can’t wait in line for that access (and believe me, there WILL be lines) and you need to blog that conference or even do some quick research to fact-check what a speaker just told an audience, you’ll have to run out to the hotel front lobby or restaurant to do that. Oh, and they charge you $10/day for that wifi access — even if you’re already paying $10/day for ethernet access in your room at the Sheraton Burlington.
This situation is simply abysmal, especially at media conferences. What, if anything, can be done about it? Are there sound reasons (other than technical ignorance and sheer laziness or greed in the hospitality industry) why we’re constantly facing this obstacle at conferences?